COMMENTARY | The Chicago Bulls' Joakim Noah was one of the last reserves taken to round out the Eastern Conference All-Star roster, yet Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel showed the utmost respect to his Central Division rival with the way in which he decided to use Noah to help secure the East's 163-155 All-Star game victory.
The unwritten rule of the NBA All-Star game has always been for players to try to put on an entertaining high-wire act through the first three quarters of play, before finally turning up the defensive energy (or whatever passes for defense nowadays) to try and win the game in the final frame.
Sunday's All-Star finale played out exactly as advertised as dunk after dunk propelled the West to the most first-half points in All-Star history (89). When the fourth quarter rolled around, the East found itself down by three, and Vogel had an interesting decision to make.
NBA All-Star game head coaches are always tasked with getting everyone a fair share of minutes early on, but, when it is time to put the foot on the gas and go get a victory, the starters seem to find their way back on the floor.
With Dwyane Wade -- who many questioned the All-Star worthiness of in the first place -- unable to play a full load of starter's minutes, Vogel had to replace him with one of the East's reserves.
Instead of swapping a shooting guard for another shooting guard, or even selecting his own big man, Roy Hibbert, to help the East try to win its first All-Star game in four years, the Pacers' head coach tapped Noah on the shoulder and told him to go help bring the East a W.
Noah responded with six of his eight points and three of his five rebounds during crunch time.
And despite having their regular season run-ins, including nearly coming to blows in the playoffs last season, Noah found in unlikely pick-and-roll partner in LeBron James. Noah, who is not shy about voicing his hatred for the Miami Heat, connected with James on buckets late to lift the East.
But what are we to make of Vogel's personnel decisions in the fourth quarter? Was it that the he simply did not want to put unnecessary minutes on the legs of Hibbert, or was Noah's playing time a clear indication of what the Pacers' coach thinks of Noah as a defender? Noah led all reserves with 21 minutes -- six minutes more than the next closest player.
Vogel has guided the Pacers to allow a league-low 90.3 points per game to opponents in the first half of the season, but the Bulls have been right there with them, surrendering only 92.3 points per contest themselves.
On a night in which Blake Griffin was stuffing the stat sheet with dunks and easy second-chance put-backs, Vogel may have found it prudent to get Noah's 11.5 rebounds per game into the skirmish and limit Griffin's effectiveness.
Kevin Durant and Griffin each had their sights on Wilt Chamberlain's all-time All-Star record of 42 points, but fell just short with 38 points apiece in defeat.
The MVP race came down to either Kyrie Irving's 31points and 14 assists or Carmelo Anthony's 30 points on an All-Star record eight made three-pointers. In the end, the Cleveland Cavalries' second-year star walked away with the individual hardware.
Looking ahead for Noah and the Bulls, the team will get a few much-needed days off before getting back at it on Wednesday when they get to pull out their passports and hit the Air Canada Centre for a clash with the Toronto Raptors. The Bulls currently sit one game behind Toronto in the standings, with this showdown momentarily deciding third place in the East.
In addition to the on-the-court action, Chicago will be very interested to see what -- if anything -- happens before the Feb. 20 trade deadline. The Bulls have been rumored to be involved in blockbuster trade talks that could have potentially tide-shifting implications in the Eastern Conference race.
However, Chicago VP of Operations John Paxson recently downplayed those rumors when he told ESPN that a deadline deal was "unlikely."
Dalton Russell is Chicago native and longtime follower of the Bulls. His championship expectations were irrevocably ruined by the Michael Jordan-led teams of the '90s and now impatiently awaits the next great chapter of Bulls basketball.
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