It felt like old times in Phoenix Sunday night.
Basketball fans couldn't help but get nostalgic over the combination of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, a tandem that, back in 2001, was way too much for anyone in the NBA to handle. Apparently it still is. Bryant had a game-high 27, Shaq had 17 points and five rebounds in 11 minutes — plus had more fun than anyone else in the building — and the West routed the East 146-119 in the NBA All Star Game in Phoenix.
“The big legendaries,” is how Shaq described playing together again with Kobe. And for Lakers fans it had to be nostalgic when the two were named co-MVP’s not only because one of the most dynamic basketball duos was back but also because the two playfully fought over the trophy when David Stern handed it to them.
You just knew it was going to be Shaq’s night when he came out during the pre-game introductions, put on the mask and danced with the Jabbawockeez (who TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager called the Wakajabeez). He carried that energy over to the court soon — at points he was out at the three-point line trying to cross-over Dwight Howard. He was setting up Chris Paul and getting feeds from Kobe Bryant. Shaq was 8 of 9 from the field.
Shaq wasn’t the only hometown boy done good — the Suns Amare Stoudemire had some amazing dunks and dropped 19 to be the game's second highest scorer. Of course, nobody in the building could seem to mention his name without the phrase “on the trading block” being in the same sentence. The favorite pastime in Phoenix this week was to guess where Amare would be playing by next weekend (the smart money is on Chicago).
The East looked like they would run away with it early after they jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James got out and ran, while Dwight Howard broke the unwritten rule of no defense until the fourth quarter. That energy became infectious, the guards from both teams were putting on full-court pressure in the first half.
Then halfway through the first quarter, as Shaq entered the game, the West went on a 19-0 run. Kobe reciprocated the East's early intensity and put up 13 first half points. The only person who scored more than Kobe in the first half was Paul Pierce, who had 14 points on four of seven shooting (he finished with 18).
The second quarter turned into basketpalooza. Both teams combined for 78 second quarter points. The West used its size advantage to attack the basket , scoring 50 points in the paint in the first 24 minutes, while the East used the perimeter to their advantage; they put up 20 of them in the first half alone.
The West pulled away at the start of the second as the East went cold and the West went on a 18-5 run. Bryant scored 8 of those early points for the West, then Shaq came took over the game.
The only huge highlight for the East in the second half came from LeBron, who with 11 seconds left served notice that he could be a force if, as he hinted, he enters the dunk contest next year — in live action he threw a pass off the backboard to himself and finished off with a thunderous slam.
LeBron and Wade joined Pierce with 18 points for the East. But it was Shaq and the West that were dancing in the Valley of the Sun.