OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma City had its first and perhaps only opportunity of hosting an NBA All-Star Game come to fruition when some of the best and the brightest basketball bodies descended on the capital to put on a show Sunday. They razzled and dazzled. They broke ankles and nearly broke rims from the force of the slams at the Cox Convention Center court. They entertained a crowd of 12,874 basketball-thirsty, Thunder-crazed fans with a show like no other.
The game, originally billed as Thunder star Kevin Durant vs. Oklahoma native Blake Griffin -- even the t-shirts sold on the concourse featured the duo -- was instead touted as Durant vs. Chris Paul once Griffin hurt his foot. The teams took to the court awash in cheers for some of the league's finest. The Blue team, led by Paul, featured the high-scorer of the night, Michael Beasley. He was joined by Carmelo Anthony, Jonny Flynn, Oklahoma's favorite bearded man James Harden and Damien Wilkins. Rudy Gay, slated to suit up in Blue, was more than fashionably late, but arrived in the third quarter to cheer his team on from the bench, clad in street clothes.
The White team, with host extraordinaire Durant, also boasted LeBron James, LaMarcus Aldridge, Jamal Crawford and former Thunder player Jeff Green. No KD team would be complete without point guard Russell Westbrook. To round out the roster in place of the absent Monta Ellis was a rook playing his first game in front of his new home crowd. Reggie Jackson had a chance to introduce himself not only to his Thunder brethren, but also to the Thunder faithful who packed the place.
Kevin Durant shoots over Michael Beasley during the USFleet Tracking Basketball Invitational Sunday, October 23, 2011 in Oklahoma City. (PHOTO BY HUGH SCOTT)
Like with any good All-Star game, defense was optional and scoring was completely fantastic. The dunk show was out in full force, with tricks from every man who took the court. The first quarter saw four sweet dunks from Westbrook counteracted by the sickly sweet and smooth shooting of Beasley, who was 8-of-10 for 16 points after 12 minutes.
After a trey by Paul at the buzzer, the Blue team held a 47-40 advantage after the first period as the scoring tally for everyone climbed by the nanosecond. A Beasley layup with 7:10 in the second quarter gave the Blues a 10-point advantage, their largest of the night. By the halftime break "Be-Easy", as Goodman League commish and play-by-play announcer Miles Rawls called out over and over, had notched 27 points. Team captain Paul went into the locker room with a halftime double-double of a ridiculous 15 assists and 12 points.
Michael Beasley sits on the bench with his son Michael Beasley, III during the USFleet Tracking Basketball Invitational Sunday, October 23, 2011 in Oklahoma City. (PHOTO BY HUGH SCOTT)
The third quarter was much of the same. Dunking acrobatics from Russ and LBJ, dishes and swishes by Paul, Beasley and Anthony, stepback three attempts by Harden and a genuine atmosphere of an almost-real NBA game when the defensive intensity picked up a bit. The fourth quarter belonged to the Durantulas, who went on a 20-2 run to put the White team ahead 152-143. The Blue team wasn't done scoring yet, however and thanks to some spot-on long-range bombs by the "Melo Fellow" and Harden, free basketball was to be had.
Lest you think this was all for fun and charity, these men were playing for a win.
"Right there before that last second shot at the end of regulation, KD was out there asking me why was I guarding him," Paul said after the game. "Because I'm not going to let him shoot it. I want to win."
The five-minute extra frame began with both squads tied at 161 and Anthony breaking the deadlock for the Blues. LeBron came to close out this game with force, however as he scored six of the White's 15 points to secure the win with KD. Durant finished with a triple-double of 42 points, 26 rebounds and 11 assists in the win. For the Blue team, Beasley beasted to a 56-point night and Paul passed around 25 assists in a triple-double of his own (14 points, 13 rebounds).
"Everybody wants to win," Green said. "When you put guys like that on the court, you're going to do whatever it takes. It was fun at the beginning but then it got serious at the end."
Jeff Green hangs on the rim after a dunk during the USFleet Tracking Basketball Invitational Sunday, October 23, 2011 in Oklahoma City. (PHOTO BY HUGH SCOTT)
The basketball never stopped, just like Durant so often says. But you don't want to just hear about basketball do you? You want to hear about the lack thereof.
Some were reserved when asked the requisite questions on the work stoppage. Jeff Green deadpanned, "you're asking the wrong man," when someone pressed him on the negotiations. Everyone spoke of patience, with Damien Wilkins planning to, "just to keep hooping, stay patient. Say your prayers, keep working out and prepare as if the season is going to start."
Others were more concrete and resolute in their thoughts on where things stand in the stand-off.
"You know as you're seeing these games that we've been playing we love to play the game," Paul said in response. "We're going to find a way to play, any way possible. We want to keep giving our fans the opportunity to see us. Because if not for the fans, we're not who we are.
"We just want them to know that we still want to keep working towards a deal because it's not just about us. It's about the fans, it's about the employees, all the people that make our game happen. We want to play, just make sure everyone understands that."
James Harden looked ready to stand firm as he got to the meat and potatoes of the issue, 50 vs. 53 percent BRI.
"53. That's where we stand at. We've had plenty of talks and we're not dropping," Harden said as he steeled his eyes. "We set our number. We already dropped and we set our number at 53, so that's what we're sticking to. We definitely talked about it before this thing even happened. We definitely talked about it, told the guys to prepare for it and it's here. "
Along with patience and perseverance was a desire for an equitable and agreeable split.
"We just want a fair deal. At the end of the day, that's what it's all about," Paul said. "We want a system that works and we want a split that is doable. We're not being greedy or anything like that, we just want a fair deal."
Whether a deal is done any time in the near future, one thing is certain. Oklahoma City got a treat like no other the week before Halloween. All-Star caliber basketball, with an All-Star caliber crowd. I hope they soaked every last basket in, because now it looks like it's time for the tricks. Boo.
Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder waves to friends in the crowd at the USFleet Tracking Basketball Invitational Sunday, October 23, 2011 in Oklahoma City. (PHOTO BY HUGH SCOTT)