Chicago • For all the excitement generated by the new Elam Ending format in Sunday’s All-Star Game, it was not without a bit of controversy.
How exactly did you feel about a game with such an intensely competitive fourth quarter ending on a free throw?
“Ehhhhhh,” replied Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell. “I think it should be a jump ball and a clear-out, or something. Or that person can go 1-on-1 … something. I don’t think a free throw should end it. But I loved the format, I think it was really exciting, I think the fans really got involved.
“I don’t have much to complain about, because we lost,” he added. “If we won, I might answer a bit differently.”
That was an honest answer.
After a sloppy but intense and competitive and riveting fourth quarter concluded on a foul call against Kyle Lowry, which gave Anthony Davis a trip to the free-throw line, the aftermath pretty much entailed universal praise for the Elam Ending concept in general, but a split almost along party lines on whether a foul call and a free throw should potentially be able to be the deciding factor.
For instance, from the vanquished Team Giannis:
• “It sucked to end like that,” Lowry said. “Maybe we have to tweak that format a little bit more [and have the game end on a made basket]. But it was a fun learning experience.”
• “Probably one of the best All-Star Games ever. Guys competed. It came down to basically the last shot. I don’t agree that you should be able to win on a free throw, but overall, it was a lot of fun,” said Joel Embiid.
Whereas from the victorious Team LeBron:
• “We just got to do whatever it took to get the win. He shouldn’t have fouled me,” Davis said. “Joel Embiid was trying to say that we shouldn’t have been able to win on a free throw, but, hey, that wasn’t in the rulebook.”
• “At the end of the day, you can win a Finals game at the free-throw line,” added team captain LeBron James. “There's a lot of things that happen on the playground that you can't do in our game, too, where you can literally foul every single time and not get disqualified. I've been in games where you've won games at the free-throw line, and that's all part of the game. If he would have missed both, no one would have been talking about it.”
• “I mean, it's a point, so we can't take out free throws through the whole game,” said game MVP Kawhi Leonard. “They pretty much made the last six or seven free throws towards the end. They kept giving them. So do we want to minus those points as well?”
Fair enough. It seems inevitable that specific issue will be revisited going forward.
What’s also certain, though, was the idea that making each quarter a game-within-a-game, and then the Elam Ending beyond that turned what started out as a 3-point launching, matador defense-playing dunkfest into a nothing-for-free, you’ve gotta-earn-this competition.
“It was dope. Damn sure got to compete at the end,” said Jimmy Butler.
“None of us knew what to expect. But throughout the whole fourth quarter and at the end of the game, everybody was like, ‘That was pretty damn fun,’ ” James remarked.
“The new format was amazing. The game was fun. Bringing defense back to the game. Bringing excitement back to the game. We all loved it,” added Davis. “… For the seven [All-Star Games] I’ve been in, this has been probably one of the better ones. You actually have to compete. You argue with the refs. It felt like a real playoff game and that’s what makes it fun.”
And he wasn’t the only one to compare the atmosphere to a postseason matchup.
“After the game, my brother came down, and he said this has been the most fun All-Star he’s been a part of. And I asked him why, and he told me, ‘Because you guys were really competitive. You guys were playing to win,’” said the captain of the losing team, Giannis Antetokounmpo. “… We were trying to come out, set the tone, play hard. Especially in the fourth quarter, the defense got tighter, guys were hitting one another, every possession counts. We had a little bit of playoff intensity out there. So I loved it. I hope we can keep the same format for a lot of years.”