CLEVELAND — The big winner of the Rising Stars game?
The new format.
And also Cade Cunningham and his Team Barry. They won in the new four-team format — and had some dramatic moments to get there.
Cunningham took home the MVP trophy with 18 points and nine assists across the two games.
But it was more about the new-look event, which got guys to play hard for stretches, something long lacking from the rookie/sophomore showcase.
“I like it,” the Grizzlies’ Desmond Bane said. “I think playing to 50 points makes it a little more competitive. At first I didn’t really know what to expect, just kind of read off other guys and how they’re playing, the second [championship] game guys played much harder obviously, it was cool for sure.”
“I thought it made it more competitive…” Cunningham added. “With all the talent on the floor, guys played hard… this wasn’t like a normal All-Star game where nobody plays any defense.”
The new Rising Stars format divided 24 players in their first two years in the league (plus four G-League Ignite players) into four teams, with those four teams going into a tournament bracket. However, the big change was the Elam ending, which has teams trying to reach a point total (50 in this case) rather than playing out a time limit.
That ending did for the rookie and sophomore showcase what it has done for the All-Star Game itself: Got guys to try.
At least for part of the games. Even with the new format, most of the contests were the usual defense-free zones that lead to entertaining highlights but little drama.
However, in the final part of games there were take fouls, double-teams, real strategy, guys hustling all over the court, and “de-fence” chants from the crowd.
When Team Isiah got within 10 points of closing it out in the opening game, both teams got serious on defense. Like Saddiq Bey blocking a Jalen Green 3-pointer serious.
There was even fouling at the end of Game 1. When Team Worthy got to 48 and Jalen Suggs had a layup to win it, he was fouled intentionally and sent to the line. Suggs hit 1-of-2, and the game continued.
Then Suggs tried the same thing: With Team Worthy at 48 and Desmond Bane about to end it, Suggs fouled Bane. The difference? Bane sank his free throws, so Team Isiah won 50-49.
It was the same in the second game, with fouls given and actual defense at the end.
As Bane noted, in the championship game — to 25 points — players went hard from the start. Team Isiah was a little shorthanded because Anthony Edwards did not play, although after the game he denied it had anything to do with the ankle he tweaked a little more than a week ago.
“I just wanted to cheer on my teammates from the sidelines,” Edwards said.
It probably wouldn’t have mattered the way Cunningham was playing.
Most importantly though, it was an entertaining Friday night. Which was a welcome change of pace.
Here’s more on the NBA All-Star weekend
Browns’ Myles Garrett shows off hops, dunks all over Celebrity Game Watch Gianmarco Tamberi with impressive put-back dunk in NBA All-Star Celebrity… Manu Ginobili, Tim Hardaway, Michael Cooper headline Hall of Fame finalists
Big winners in NBA Rising Stars game? New format and Cade Cunningham originally appeared on NBCSports.com