Thursday, February 17, 2011

All-Star Weekend: Where defense goes to die

Trivia question that no one other than an IBM-designed supercomputer should know: When's the last time a team in the NBA All-Star Game failed to score 100 points?

Answer (I know, putting the answer one line below the question sort of takes the drama out of it): 1966, when the East beat the West 137-94, behind the MVP efforts of Cincinnati's Adrian Smith. Before that, you have to go back to 1957.

All-Star weekend is no place for defensive purists, the people who revel in shutdown man-to-man defense and befuddling zones. But the actual game remains my favorite of the all-star contests. Baseball has history and the poets on its side, but also gives us second-stringers deciding homefield advantage in the World Series, as by the time the game ends four hours after the first pitch and two hours after Tim McCarver stopped making sense, the main stars are long gone. In the closing minutes of a close game in the NBA All-Star Game it's the best in the West against the best in the East. It's the players everyone wants to see and the ones voted in and in the final minutes the exhibition often turns into something resembling a real game. Give me that over MLB's pageantry.

Well, usually the stars shine. Back to that 1966 defensive showdown. Adrian Smith, MVP? The East's starting lineup that year? Chamberlain, Havlicek, Jerry Lucas, Sam Jones, Oscar Robertson. They brought guys like Willis Reed and Hal Greer off the bench. And an aging center named Russell. Yet Adrian Smith - who scored a game-high 24 points off the bench - took home the MVP. It seems like something that would be the result of a bet between, say, Wilt and Russell. Is it possible for us to turn the most obscure player on the roster into the MVP?

The West somehow only managed to hit 29 percent from the field. Smith likely remains the unlikeliest MVP in the game's long history. For the most part, players whose post-basketball careers include trips to Springfield for induction into the Hall of Fame win the All-Star Game MVP. Even the exceptions - guys like Ralph Sampson and Tom Chambers - weren't anywhere near as shocking as Smith's triumph.

Defense really is just a rumor, though. Forget a team not reaching 100 points. The last time a team failed to score at least 110 points was 1975, when the East won 108-102. Most years the winning team hits 130 or 140 and the losers aren't far behind. And somewhere, as he breaks down film of a 77-72 Knicks victory over the Heat in 1998, Jeff Van Gundy vomits.

All-Star games are about scoring. They're certainly about dunking. But best of all they're about passing. Here are some of the best. No. 1 is, of course, by Magic.

A lot of people don't enjoy the All-Star Game because it is unlike anything we see during the NBA season, but even the purists can appreciate passing like that. And don't worry, soon enough scores of 90-82 and 79-75 will litter our TV screens once again.

In the meantime, enjoy just a little offense.

No comments: