G League call-up Mac McClung may have "saved" the NBA Slam Dunk Contest on Saturday, but it now appears the NBA All-Star Game itself is in need of saving. Team Giannis defeated Team LeBron, 184-175, on Sunday in Salt Lake City in a game that more closely resembled a layup line or shooting practice than a competitive basketball game between the world's best athletes. The Elam Ending provided a bit of drama in the fourth quarter as Team LeBron attempted to erase a 19-point deficit, but the rest of the game lacked any sort of competitiveness or edge on the defensive end of the court.
Celtics star Jayson Tatum won MVP honors after setting an All-Star Game record with 55 points, many of which came with little to no resistance.
Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone, who helmed the losing Team LeBron on Sunday night, didn't mince words after the game, speaking out against the lack of effort from both sides.
"It's an honor to be here. It's an honor to be a part of a great weekend, great players. But that is the worst basketball game ever played," Malone said after the All-Star game. "I don't know if you can fix it. I give Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving -- those guys were like, competing. Joel was imploring some of the guys to play harder, to try to get some defense in. No one got hurt, they put on a show for the fans, but that is a tough game to sit through. I'm not gonna lie."
Malone wasn't the only one who noticed, as fans and media alike remarked throughout the game about the quality -- or lack thereof -- during the 2023 edition.
This Game Sucks— warriorsworld (@warriorsworld) February 20, 2023
We really don't need a traditional All-Star Game if this is gonna be the product. Try something new next year. More captains, pick teams of five, have a round robin tournament with games to 21. Real cash prizes.— Sam Quinn (@SamQuinnCBS) February 20, 2023
ASW is one the league's utmost spotlight events. Football is over. Spring training hasn't started yet. All you're competing with is hockey. The NBA still needs to take advantage of this stuff to keep growing, but if players don't care, this opportunity just doesn't matter.— Anthony F. Irwin (@AnthonyIrwinLA) February 20, 2023
As Malone mentioned, Embiid and Irving appeared to at least be competing, combining for 67 points, 20 assists, 20 rebounds and four steals, but it's just difficult to get the league's best players to go hard in an exhibition setting, particularly with the playoffs less than two months away.
Case in point, LeBron James attempted to play defense in the first half, trying to block a layup from Pascal Siakam. In the process, he caught his hand on the rim and was ruled out for the second half due to the injury.
With the Los Angeles Lakers scratching and clawing for a playoff spot, James will rue the day he tried to play defense in an All-Star game if it means missing even one of the team's upcoming crucial games.
So as Malone said, there may not be a fix, particularly in a traditional format. The league implemented the Elam Ending with the target score a few years ago, which has helped in the final quarter, but there's really not much to do about the first three quarters. These are the elite of the elite, and they're simply not going to risk their health for a game that ultimately has no bearing on standings.
Unless there's a significant change in mindset from the players, or the league in terms of a revised format, don't expect future All-Star Games to be much different.