FROM STEVE BRENNER IN NEW YORK
It was a night which threatened to become best remembered as a sporting pop-concert before Russell Westbrook took centre stage to go within touching distance of history.
The NBA All-Star game may appear to be nothing more than a glitzy, glorified exhibition involving the best players on the planet yet it was Westbrook’s dynamism and athletic power which gave it some serious credence as the Oklahoma Thunder guard scored a monumental 41 points – just one shy of Wilt Chamberlin’s 1962 all time record in this annual jamboree.
That helped the West overcome their friends from the East in what turned out to be the highest scoring game in history. It ended 163- 158 in front of a sell-out 17,198. Yet it was Westbrook’s display which caught the eye of LeBron James, who weighed in with 30 points himself.
‘Westbrook was going forward from the start, he is an unbelievable talent – his motor , his enthusiasm, his demeanor in the way he approaches the game. And he showcased it in a big stage like this. He is one of the most gifted players ever, “admitted James.
‘I was one of the young guys and then you try and make your mark when you see the senior guys.Now in the reverse role I know the NBA is in good hands with all the talent we have.’
‘When you get a chance to play in a game like this it is an honour and a blessing. Someone told me about the record and I could have had it but I kept missing lay-ups, ‘ added 26 year-old Westbrook who was also named the evening’s MVP.
‘The whole experience was amazing. With fashion week also in New York at the moment I was very excited and managed to get some other things done too.’
It was the first time since 1998 that Madison Square Garden, the home of basketball, had hosted this annual extravaganza – and it was a typically star studded audience.
Famous faces from one end of the A-list spectrum to the other – Floyd Mayweather Bill Clinton and Rihanna among many celebrated others were here – witnessed history from the off.
The Gasol brothers – Marc from the Memphis Grizzlies and Pau of the Chicago Bulls – became the first siblings to start the All Star match . It was a proud moment for Spain.
There is, however, more than a half-paced exhibition feel about this game. After all, not many NBA encounters are interrupted by the Jersey Boys coming onto stage to sing ‘Oh what a night.’ It was half sporting event, half pop concert.
The players though enjoyed themselves, seemingly delighted to have the pressure of the gruelling, never ending 82 game season lifted for a few days before getting back to the serious matter of qualifying for the play-off’s.A full array of showboating was unleashed with Cleveland Cavaliers superstar James, starting his 11th game in 12 years , rapidly notching 15 points after just eight minutes of a first quarter which ended with the West 47-36 ahead. Defending was not the order of the night.
And so it proved. By half-time the score was 82-83 – the combined points tally of 165 a new record. Westbrook certainly played his part, the dynamic Oklahoma Thunder guard firing 25 by the break, which was a new high for most in a half of an All Star game.
It was barely competitive yet thoroughly entertaining, which should be expected when some fans had paid an eye-watering $800 a piece for tickets. Stephen Curry, who received a staggering 4,000 votes more than the second most popular player in the fans poll which decided both rosters, continued to prove why he and the Golden State Warriors should be in line for a very fruitful end of season, with an excellent third quarter which showcased his wide array of talents.
Yet as the match petered out, Westbrook just kept on scoring.
‘It was a spectacular show of athleticism. Any time you can score 41 points in an All-Star game is pretty cool, ‘ added Curry.