All-Star Game missing the spectacular

DENVER -- I never thought I'd grow up to be one of those "All-Star Games reek" kind of guys.

And since I'm not quite ready to be that guy yet, I will attempt to do here what most of Sunday's reluctant entertainers did best in the NBA's 54th All-Star Game.


I will try not to be so me-first and resist the desire to moan about the big game's inability to deliver even one Josh Smith moment. I will try to buy the postgame rationalizations that were far more plentiful than the memories folks will take home from what is supposed to be the pinnacle of the weekend.

The All-Star Game was a week later than usual.

Many All-Stars, as a result, were more banged up than usual.

The new test ball used Sunday, different from your standard Spalding apparently, was also a problem ... along with that blasted Mile High thin air.

"I know a lot of people want to see a lot of individual players step up and take the mantle [with] crossovers and get into the holes [for] high-flying dunks, but I thought overall it was a good display of basketball," Seattle's Ray Allen said.

"Everybody made a conscious effort at getting their teammates involved and, with so many people watching the game all over the world, we definitely have to set an example. I think as much as we like to showboat a little bit, that team concept was out there."


Team concept in the All-Star Game.

Leave the example-setting in the Olympics to Argentina.

I can accept it if you can.

"It wasn't the best display, was it?" said Steve Nash, Allen's West teammate.

Of course, in trademark Nash fashion, Nash castigated himself -- frustration with his bad hamstring, specifically -- for failing to set up his West colleagues with sufficient opportunities to be spectacular. You know. Like he does for the Suns.

Yet we can acknowledge that injuries actually were a legitimate culprit. Nash, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan all requested limited minutes from Gregg Popovich because of aching limbs, and Popovich is too much of a gentleman to limit Duncan's workload and grind Garnett and Nash to dust.

Garnett, truth be told, wanted to skip All-Star Weekend completely to rest his sore knee, but was promptly informed by the league that he would have to spend the first five games out of the break on the injured list if he declined to show. Reluctant for days to even discuss his condition publicly, KG finally addressed it briefly after logging 16 minutes here, thanking the coach for his understanding.

Then he addressed the idea that a healthy Garnett, Duncan and Nash might have made a difference in the aesthetic quality of proceedings.

"We're impact players," Garnett said, supporting the theory.

That wasn't the only theory in circulation, mind you, after the first All-Star Game since 1981 without a single 20-point scorer.

Kobe Bryant was asked about all the clanked jumpers (from both sides) and the curious sight of two teams shooting below 50 percent from the floor in an environment not exactly known for defense. "Blame it on the altitude," Bryant said. "I know my chest was burning."

The ball in play didn't win many admirers, either. Several players revealed afterward that the new sphere, apparently a contender to be the league's official ball next season, had a foreign feel.

"You saw a lot guys struggling to get the ball out of their hands," Nash said. "It was a little sticky."

Said Garnett: "Little bit [strange]. Little bit. Little bit. It was new. Just like all new things, then you figure it out."

But did they?

I'm trying to be understanding, but I, too, am struggling. I didn't see anyone besides Shaquille O'Neal in a showman's mood, and O'Neal's playfulness didn't last much beyond the first-quarter free throw he shot with one hand on his hip.

None of the other expected talking points materialized, either.

Shaq and Kobe didn't come close to so much as a fist tap before the opening tip, after Kobe was booed by the Coloradans in pregame introductions ... but then they never came close to any meaningful interaction in the lane, where we really wanted some contract.

Shaq vs. Yao Ming? Ditto.

Grant Hill threw down one nice alley-oop in his first All-Star Game since LeBron James was a high school freshman ... but wife Tamia's rendition of the Canadian national anthem, if we're being honest, was the evening's most stirring contribution from the Hill family.

James felt he had to hold back on his only open-court dunk because of his own health issues (ankle), and the best dunk we did see -- Vince Carter's alley-oop to himself -- is something Tracy McGrady has already shown us on the All-Star stage.

Manu Ginobili, with a game purportedly made for this kind of showcase, produced only one circus layup ... and a tame one by his standards.

Nash and Dirk Nowitzki, meanwhile, didn't run a single nostalgic pick-and-roll in their reunion game; Nowitzki strangely seemed more interested in defense than in his usual specialties.

Not even a tight score at the end, with the inferior East ahead and the mighty West scrambling, could rouse the crowd. Inside two minutes, the spectacle generating the most noise was neither Yao nor T-Mac. It was the Houston Rockets' inflatable mascot, Clutch, launching into convulsions near the East bench and then shooting silly string from his neck.

"I don't think you're unrealistic," Popovich said when I asked him whether we [I] expect too much -- whether it's unfair to expect these lads to produce the spectacular on cue.

"But I hope the fans appreciate that it is a burden to a degree."

I said I would try, Pop.

So here's my prayer, er, theory: They're all saving the truly special stuff for the playoffs.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.