Friday, February 15, 2008

T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam Live Blog

Pregame: Welcome to New Orleans Arenas, where All-Star Weekend tips off in full force tonight with the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam. This is the big event for the Sonics, with Kevin Durant and Jeff Green teaming up for the Rookie squad.

In addition to having the best of the NBA's young talent on the floor tonight, we've got young fans in the crowd. By successfully completing reading and attendance requirements, more than 5,000 “T-Mobile Huddle-Up All-Stars,” grades 6-8 from participating school districts in New Orleans are watching the game from the best seats in the house in the lower bowl of the New Orleans Arena. Our applause and cheering tonight will have a distinctly higher pitch than normal.

I am not quite so close. In fact, I can't remember being this far away at an NBA game since watching the Sonics play Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the Kingdome back in the late 1980s. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. It's All-Star Weekend and I have a seat - that's more than enough.

I'll have updates focusing on the two Sonics rookies throughout the game, so keep checking back with Sonics Beat.

Tipoff: Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks introduced his rookie teammates, and both Durant and Green will start for the Rookies with Horford, Mike Conley and Luis Scola. Brandon Roy is matched up with Durant and I suspect those two are going to get awful sick of each other soon. The Sonics and Blazers play a home-and-home set next Thursday and Friday (get your tickets now for Portland's first visit of the season on Friday), so they'll match up three times in eight days.

14:27 1st Half: First, let me address that odd number up there, 14:27. We play two 20-minute halves in the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam as opposed to the standard four 12-minute quarters. It's like throwing back to college for these young players.

Chris Paul is being interviewed on the arenavision during this timeout and the fans here love their All-Star point guard.

The rookies are hanging in there, with the game tied at 15 pending Rudy Gay free throws. Kevin Durant leads all rookies with seven points and has grabbed three rebounds, while Jeff Green has two points and two boards thus far.

9:52 1st Half: You know it's All-Star Weekend when ... Daniel Gibson hits a three-pointer and high fives teammate LeBron James, sitting courtside ... no fewer than five NBA mascots are dunking during a timeout ... multiple passes have sailed over the intended receiver's hands and into the first row.

Kevin Durant is the lone rookie to go the distance so far and has done a nice job creating opints for hismelf and looks for his teammates. He and Brandon Roy have a nice little duel going at both ends. Obviously, this game is about offense and highlights, but so far it has been recognizable as a regular basketball game and it should stay that way as long as it is close (currently Sophomores 29, Rookies 26).

4:43 1st Half: The Sophomores have pulled out to a 45-40 lead almost solely on the hot shooting of Cavaliers guard Daniel Gibson. Gibson hit five of his first six three-point attempts, accounting for all 15 of his points (a game high), before finally missing a moment ago. The Rookies have actually been playing pretty well, but they're trading twos for threes right now.

Halftime: The Sophs pulled away late in the first half and, despite Kevin Durant finishing an alley-oop from Mike Conley just before the buzzer, they lead the Rookies 66-52 at the midway point. Here's hoping the Rookies put together a comebakc, not so much because I'm pulling for Durant and Jeff Green as because this game is so much more entertaining when it is competitive.

Durant leads all rookies with 15 points on 7-of-13 shooting and has added five boards. Green has had a rougher go, scoring two points on 1-of-5 shooting with three rebounds.

Now, the players have cleared the court and American Idol winner Jordin Sparks has taken center stage for a halftime performance.

15:45 2nd Half: For the first time tonight, a coach has called a timeout. It's Rookies head man Darrell Walker who's forced to take time with the Sophomores pulling out to a 19-point edge early in the second half. I forgot to mention the incredible statistic that the Sophomores had only two turnovers in the entire first half. They've gotten a little sloppier since then, but they also hold an 11-0 advantage in three-pointers; the Rookies have attempted only one triple.

That has something to do with the way the two rosters are constructed. The Rookies have only one true piont guard (Juan Carlos Navarro) and primarily swingmen and big guys. The Sophomores are guard-heavy, with only three bigs on the roster and two true point guards along with two others who can play the position. So it's no surprise threes and turnovers have favored the second-year pros.

7:40 2nd Half: Wow, that was a long stretch between timeouts. Jeff Green got a transition dunk courtesy Kevin Durant after a Durant steal, and that seems to have helped him get going. Green hit the first three of the night for the Rookies and now has nine points and five boards. Durant, with 23 points and eight rebounds, now leads the Rookies in both categories.

4:01 2nd Half: The Rookies have been trading baskets the last few minutes and have been unable to make a dent in the Sophomores' 20-point lead. With just a tick over four minutes left to play, it's 116-96 Sophomores. With the outcome no longer in question, I'm heading down to the media level to conduct postgame interviews with Kevin Durant and Jeff Green. I'll have a wrap-up post after that concludes.

Final: The Sophomores take this one going away, 136-109. There's no shame in losing for the Rookies, as this is the sixth straight T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam that has gone to the more experienced Sophomores. Daniel Gibson won MVP honors on the strength of his 11 three-pointers. No typo there - 11. All 20 of his attempts came from behind the three-point line and he shot 55% on them. Not bad when they count for three points. Gibson made more threes than the entire Rookie team took (nine).

As for your Sonics, they acquitted themselves nicely in defeat. Kevin Durant led the rookies with 23 points, shot 10-of-19 from the field, grabbed eight rebounds and handed out four assists. Jeff Green actually ended up playing the most minutes of any player (34:24) and scored nine points, adding five rebounds.

That wraps up All-Star Weekend for Durant and Green, at least on the court. After enjoying their last evening in New Orleans, both are due out tomorrow morning. Durant will be going to Austin and then on to see his former Texas Longhorns teammates play at Baylor. Green is headed home to Washington, D.C. and looking forward to seeing his niece.

Don't think SUPERSONICS.COM is finished, however. I'll be here through the weekend and while the coverage won't be as intense as today's, I'll still follow the action of All-Star Saturday Night and Sunday's main event. There's a Seattle tie remaining as Portland guard Brandon Roy makes his All-Star debut. So keep checking out Sonics Beat throughout the weekend.