There were no Raptors in the NBA all-star game last night, but the Eastern and Western all-stars sure played defence like the Raptors. Anyway, in what was something of a yawner even by all-star standards, the East beat the West 125-115 at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
For the first time since the 1981 all-star game, no individual player scored more than 20 points.
MVP BY DEFAULT
Almost by default, Allen Iverson of the East was named the MVP. He had 15 points, 10 assists and five steals, but shot 4-for-14 from the field and turned the ball over seven times. Hey, nobody's perfect.
It was the second time Iverson has been the MVP of the all-star game, having won the award in 2001.
Shaquille O'Neal switched conferences when he switched teams last summer, and his presence on the Eastern squad last night made a huge difference. Shaq had only 12 points, but he was a steadying force.
"(Shaq) is the greatest player ever to play this game," Iverson said, offering high praise indeed.
The most spectacular play of the evening was a dunk by Vince Carter. Maybe he was warming up for the game tomorrow, when his new team, the New Jersey Nets, will play host to his old team, the Raptors.
Late in the first half, Carter lobbed the ball off the backboard, caught it with one hand and executed a windmill slam that woke up the corporate crowd.
"It was one of those things that just happened," said Carter, who was in a lousy mood after the game. He scored 11 points but played only 18 minutes.
Asked again about the game against Toronto tomorrow, a glum Carter said, "I could care less, really."
A year ago, you could have secured a fortune had you placed a bet that Kobe Bryant would not be the centre of attention during all-star weekend in Denver. Recall, this is the same Kobe Bryant who was charged with rape in nearby Eagle County, Colo.
The criminal charges were dropped last fall, however, and Bryant -- who was booed when he was introduced last night -- spent the past three days keeping a low profile. He scored 16 points for the West, which was led by Ray Allen with 17 points.
Prior to last night, the most visible figure of the weekend was Canadian Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns.
On Saturday Nash not only won the skills challenge in record time, but he facilitated one of the most memorable dunks in slam-dunk contest history. Suns teammate Amare Stoudemire threw the ball off the backboard and Nash headed it back to Stoudemire, who spun in mid-air and completed the slam.
"That was pretty good, definitely original," said Carter, the dunk champion in 2000. "But I think it would have had more of a bang had it worked the first time (Stoudemire and Nash needed two tries)."
Nash played for the West last night, but he took it a little easy because of a sore hamstring, collecting only two points and six assists in 17 minutes.
The real star of the weekend, for better or worse, was collective bargaining. With the NHL season up in smoke again, much of the focus here was on the NBA's expiring agreement with its players.
League commissioner David Stern and players association executive director Billy Hunter put a feel-good -- albeit non-specific -- spin on the CBA talks. But Raptors rookie and union representative Matt Bonner, who attended a players association meeting on Saturday, cautioned that optimism alone won't get a deal done.
"It's going to be a tedious process," Bonner said.