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NBA All-Star Game Review: Jayson Tatum dominates in Salt Lake City

Jayson Tatum scored an All-Star Game record 55 points as he helped Team Giannis hand a first defeat to Team LeBron on Sunday night.

Giannis took Tatum as his first starter pick and the Celtics star played his part as they took down what looked to be a more talented side assembled by James, winning 184-175.

Damian Lillard capped off a great weekend for himself in Utah by hitting the game-winner, with his three-pointer taking Team Giannis past the 182-winning target. That came off the back of Lillard claiming the Three-Point Contest crown on All-Star Saturday night.

However, while there was plenty to enjoy on Sunday night and the weekend as a whole, the game still had its critics. Denver Nuggets and Team LeBron head coach Mike Malone called Sunday’s clash “the worst basketball game ever played”.

Tatum sets out MVP and title credentials

While the All-Star Game is generally considered a fun showpiece - unless you’re Malone - the last two winners of the MVP award meant business. Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2021 and Steph Curry in 2022 followed up the All-Star MVP by winning the subsequent Finals MVP as their sides claimed the championship.

Tatum will be hoping he is ready to follow in their footsteps, having won the Eastern Conference finals MVP award last term as he guided the Celtics back to the biggest stage. While his team fell short to Curry and the Golden State Warriors, the Celtics are 13/4 to win this season’s championship.

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There is logic in the growing link between the two MVP awards. Once the NBA regular season resumes on Thursday night it’s a whistle-stop tour to the Play-offs. The intensity builds across the final weeks of the season, so if your superstar can peak in February then you’ve got a great chance of going all the way by June.

The regular season MVP award is obviously much harder to claim, with Tatum a 14/1 shot to win that for the first time. He faces much heavier competition for that award, having been helped in the All-Star game by the fact that he was one of only two players to feature for 30 minutes or more. Tatum scored his 55 points off a game-high 35 minutes, shooting 18 of his side’s 66 three-point attempts.

Focus on LeBron

LeBron lost his 100 per cent record as a captain on the night that he was celebrated by the league for being the game’s greatest scorer. After thrilling in the first half - including assisting his own dunk off the backboard - LeBron sat out the second half through injury.

However, he took centre stage at half-time as the league celebrated his milestone of 38,411 points - making him the highest-scoring player in the history of the NBA. Sunday night also marked his record-equalling 19th All-Star appearance.

He’s in the mood to add to that tally, as before the game he revealed that he’s aiming to feature in each of the Los Angeles Lakers’ remaining games as he tries to drag them towards the Play-offs.

LeBron said the 23-game run-in featured “23 of the most important games of my career”.

The Lakers are currently two games shy of 10th in the league, but they’re also only six games short of the third-placed Sacramento Kings. The west is tight enough for an improved Lakers team to make a run and they’re 17/10 to make the Play-offs, while they can be backed at 10/11 to feature in the Play-in tournament.

What does the future hold for the All-Star game?

While All-Star weekend is a celebration of basketball, the game itself still has its critics. The lack of defending remains the biggest concern, but it’s hard to expect 48 minutes of competitive basketball at this point in the season with the Play-offs in sight.

This was the fourth season with the Elam ending, which sets a target score for the fourth quarter rather than a clock. It brought tight games in 2020 and 2022 so clearly not all is broken with the current format.

However, there’s little incentive for players to push themselves. We saw that with Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic, who combined for eight points across 19 and 20 minutes respectively.

The game itself was at its most entertaining when players went one-on-one or tried some incredible dunks, so maybe altering the scoring format is the answer.

While it was great to see Tatum, Lillard and Donovan Mitchell playing together, by the end they were just having shots from the logo in hope more than expectation.

All-Star weekend did have competitive games, which came in the three Rising Stars matchups on Friday night.

When you combine that with great individual competitions - including a revitalised Dunk Contest - the spectacle of the All-Star game caps off a great weekend of basketball.

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