CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (AP) – When the likes of the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons and Boston’s Jayson Tatum get to the National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star Game and partake in what’s become the preferred run-and-fun style where defence is discouraged at virtually all costs, this much is clear.
They’ll be ready.
Dunks, layups, three-pointers and little else. That was the playsheet for the Rising Stars game on Friday night, one where Kuzma led all scorers with 35 points on the way to Most Valuable Player (MVP) honours and the United States (US) team defeated the World squad 161-144 on the floor that the All-Stars will be using later on in the weekend.
Tatum added 30 points for the US. The teams combined for 37 three-pointers, 55 dunks and shot a combined 12 free throws.
“Last year, the World team beat us,” Kuzma said. “They came in here and beat us by 30. A lot of us kind of remembered that.”
It was 31, actually – 155-124, not that it matters.
Tatum added 30 points in the game for first- and second-year players in a game that was known for years as the Rookie Game. Atlanta’s Trae Young finished with 25 points and 10 assists, Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox had 15 assists and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell added 20 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.
Everyone looked happy afterward.
The US squad had a bit more reason to look that way.
“There’s a USD25,000 bonus for winning the game,” Kuzma said. “So that’s good.”
Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons led the World team with 28 points on 14 for 17 shooting. Chicago’s Lauri Markkanen had 21 points for the World squad, and Dallas’ Luka Doncic had 13 points and nine assists.
Both teams shot 55 per cent. The difference was on three-pointers – the US was 21 for 51, while the World was 16 for 52.
The mood from the outset was predictably light, even including the pregame speeches from US coach Kyrie Irving of the Boston Celtics and World coach Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks.
“I want us to share the ball and not one guy dribble it 20 times and hoist something up – like Luka does with the Mavs,” Nowitzki said, laughing a bit at his own joke.
Irving’s message was succinct.
“Just have some fun,” Irving said. “It’s okay to compete.”
Doncic talked Phoenix’s DeAndre Ayton out of taking the opening tip for the World team, with the young Mavs star jumping against Fox instead of having either centre handle the honours.
Young was throwing an alley-oop lob to Atlanta teammate John Collins for a 360-degree dunk in one possession, then crossing over Josh Okogie in almost comical fashion on the next.
“We gotta play some defence,” Mitchell implored teammates at one point.
It was unclear if anyone ever actually listened to his plea.
There was one foul called in the entire first half, Markkanen getting whistled for it with 4:13 remaining until halftime. The first half saw 25 dunks and 20 three-pointers in 20 minutes – the sides played 10-minute quarters.
Late in the half, Collins flashed a crossover dribble, then underhand-tossed a pass off the backboard to himself for a dunk that had players on both sides reacting in mock disbelief.