Anthony Davis set an All-Star record for points made by an individual player with 52 points, and became the first player to win MVP in front of his home fans since Kobe Bryant was named MVP at the 2011 event in Los Angeles, as the Western Conference defeated the Eastern Conference with another record 192-182 score.
But a part of the evening belonged to the Milwaukee Bucks guard, Nigerian-Greek Giannis Antetokounmpo, the man who is fondly called “The Greek Freak” because of his unusual physique, and his ability to do stuff other players can only dream of at both ends of the floor.
Antetokounmpo, who was making his All-Star debut, led all Eastern players with 30 points on 14-17 shooting, and added six rebounds, three steals and one block in 23 minutes. He was also the only starter in the Eastern Conference team with zero turnover. LeBron James was the second-highest scorer in the East with 23 points.
The Freak had served intent that he was at the event to have fun when he was introduced. The huge grin that split his face told the whole story: Giannis was relishing his first All-Star experience.
The Greek Freak with Nigerian roots was the first starter to be introduced when the Eastern All-Stars emerged from deep within the bowels of the stage at the Smoothie King Center. The lad who was playing Second Division basketball in the Greek League just four years ago, rose to the big time as he was announced alongside Jimmy Butler, DeMar DeRozan, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James, who moved to the heavy jazz beats as his name was announced.
Then, with about three minutes played in the first quarter, Antetokounmpo displayed the skills that has endeared him to fans all over the world: he swatted the ball off local hero Anthony Davis, as the Pelicans center shaped up to launch a mid-range jump shot, then the Freak streaked up the court on the next play, took a pass from Kyrie Irving, faked out Kawhi Leonard and threw down a thunderous one-handed dunk.
He followed that up with a steal off James Harden, and threw down a windmill dunk as fans screamed. The game then became a series of dunk fests as LeBron, Kevin Durant, DeRozan and Davis all followed Antetokounmpo’s example and threw down eye-catching dunks of their own.
In the third quarter, the Greek Freak again showcased his athleticism. Kyrie Irving missed a shot from just inside the arc. Steph Curry was shaping up to snag the rebound, but Giannis flew in from the corner, snatched the ball off Steph’s head and threw down a monster jam. The next time Giannis came down the floor with only Steph in front of him, the Golden State Warriors guard simply lay flat on the floor as Antetokounmpo flew by him for another dunk.
The drama between Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant abated when the former teammates stepped on court. Both had stood at different ends of the stage as the Western Conference posed for a photo shoot before the game tipped off. However, Russ was the recipient of an alley-hoop pass from KD that he finished with a dunk.
The Western Conference bench applauded both men when they returned during a break in the game, as the friendly All-Star atmosphere finally cracked the ice. Westbrook ended with 41 points off 16-26 shooting in 20 minutes. Durant scored 21 points on 9-16 shots.
The 2017 All-Star Game will go down in history because of the records that fell in New Orleans: Anthony Davis scored the most points in an All-Star Game by putting up record FG attempts (26-39); Kevin Durant recorded the fourth triple-double in the history of the event (21 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists); the game had the most combined points in a quarter, a half and in the game itself (101, 189, 374) and the 57.9 percent (162-280) is the highest in All-Star history.
By Akinbode Oguntuyi