The Chicago Bulls didn’t place a player in the 2020 NBA All-Star Game, but no matter, as basketball fans everywhere ended up entertained.
While the Chicago Bulls sat at home or in the stands and watched with the rest of us, a fairly run-of-the-mill all-star game, which was light on defense, as usual, turned into the best vs. the best duking it out for charity in the fourth quarter.
Like many folks, I’ve often dismissed the NBA and NHL all-star games because of their lack of defense. That doesn’t mean I don’t understand it – teams, especially playoff contenders, don’t want their players getting hurt in an exhibition game; and the relaxed defense allows the most talented athletes to show off offensive moves/take shots that they couldn’t or wouldn’t in a regular-season contest. The problem is that the offensive fireworks get boring after a while.
This year, the scoring format was changed. Instead of normal scoring, the score would reset after each quarter. However, the cumulative score would still be tallied. Then, 24 points would be added to the lead team’s score as a target number, and the game clock would be turned off, although the shot clock would remain in effect. Whichever team reached the target first would be the winner.
The number 24 was chosen in honor of the late Kobe Bryant, who along with his daughter Gianna and several others, perished in a helicopter crash in January. The fourth quarter would also run commercial-free.
So, as the NBA said in a press release, if, for example, the cumulative score was 100-95 entering the fourth, the target would be 124, and the team that had 100 points would need just 24 points to win, while the trailing team would need 29.
The 2020 NBA All-Star Game had a target of 157 points.
Team LeBron and Team Giannis – the teams were selected by LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo – switched gears from a game of dunks and lightly contested shots to one of actual defense in the fourth. Players started showing the same intensity of a regular-season game, and actually expressed anger at foul calls. Yes, there were suddenly foul calls in an all-star game.
It came down to an Anthony Davis free-throw, which he sunk to give Team LeBron a 157-155 victory. But the real winner was the NBA – the new format gave viewers a reason to stick around for the fourth quarter, instead of bailing as soon as they were tired of the dunks.
While it’s not a given that the new format will provide this type of drama every year, it’s probably more likely that teams will have to slug it out, creating a chance for fans to watch what happens when the league’s best players are actually trying, as opposed to running what’s essentially a lay-up line.
Yes, if one team has a huge lead in cumulative scoring after three quarters, the drama will be sucked out a bit. For example – a 120-90 score would take the edge off, as it’s likelier that the team with 120 points is getting to 144 quicker than the one that would need 54 before the other guys scored 24.
And even a tied game could go sideways if one team got on a quick run.
Still, there’s more chance for drama than not. And tacking the target onto the lead score gives both teams an incentive to work to keep it close through three. Certainly just asking teams to be the first to 24 would be silly, since it would make the first three quarters irrelevant.
Chicago has seen great basketball over the years, and not just from the Bulls. The 1988 NBA All-Star Game is still remembered for its dunk contest. So it’s fitting that over 30 years later, the 2020 NBA All-Star Game, taking place just across the street, created memories of its own.