After closing out the first half with 16- and 15-point efforts against the Pacers and Cavaliers, respectively, Russell continued to find his scoring touch in Friday's showcase, though his production didn't exactly come against lock-down defense. Nonetheless, Russell was supremely productive and efficient while playing only 16 minutes Friday, but as has been the case for much of this season, he was forced to give way to Lakers teammate Jordan Clarkson in crunch time.
Clarkson was one of four players on the United States team to record 20 or more points, but he faded late in the contest. After knocking down four of his first five three-point tries, he only connected on one of nine attempts from downtown over the remainder of the game.
A late addition to the game as a replacement for the injured Nerlens Noel (knee), Booker might have actually been a better fit for the United States squad, as the wide-open, defense-optional nature of the contest was well suited for the shooting guard's skill set. Booker, who will also compete in Saturday's 3-Point Shootout contest, gave the Toronto crowd a preview of what's to come by knocking down more than half his shots from the outside.
Wiggins, who grew up in Vaughn, Ontario, received the most cheers of any player from the Toronto crowd when he was introduced, but that groundswell of support wasn't enough to carry him and the World squad to a victory. The 20-year-old was joined by the Knicks' Kristaps Porzingis (30 points) and the Nuggets' Emmanuel Mudiay (30 points) in spearheading the World's offensive attack, but after winning MVP honors in last season's game in New York, Wiggins ultimately watched Timberwolves teammate Zach LaVine (30 points) take home that trophy for the U.S. squad this time around.
It was a rare display of efficiency from Mudiay, who has shot just 34 percent from the floor and 27.2 percent from three-point range in 40 games for the Nuggets this season. However, much of Mudiay's points came against a United States defense that could best be described as apathetic, so there's not really much to clean from this performance. The rookie will likely continue to get all the minutes he can handle for the rebuilding Nuggets in the second half, but he'll be a drain in the percentage categories while providing one of the poorer assist-to-turnover ratios of any starting point guard.
Porzingis missed out on getting a second block in the closing seconds of the game, as fellow rookie Karl-Anthony Towns dunked over the Latvian sensation to give the U.S. squad an insurmountable five-point lead. Aside from that, Porzigis otherwise was at the forefront of a balanced World scoring attack that included a 30-point effort from Emmanuel Mudiay and a 29-point showing from Andrew Wiggins.
As has been tradition since the inception of the event, the Rising Stars Challenge didn't feature much defense, as both squads chased highlights and hoisted three-pointers with reckless abandon. That kind of contest suited LaVine, one of the league's most athletic players, just fine, as he hit 13 of his 20 shot attempts while giving the Toronto fans a preview of what's to come Saturday night. The second-year guard will be back on the court to defend the Slam Dunk Contest title he won at last season's All-Star Game in New York.
Vasquez had stopped using crutches in early January and hoped to be back by the end of the month after having ankle surgery in mid-December, but it appears that he underestimated his recovery time quite a bit. This new timetable moves his return date to some time in early March.
After being assigned to the D-League earlier in the week, Tavares was recalled by the Hawks on Friday--the first day of the All-Star break. Whether on not he will stick with the Hawks through the break remains to be seen, but there could be reserve minutes available if Tiago Splitter undergoes surgery on his injured hip.
Thompson came over from Philadelphia this summer after spending the first seven years of his career in Sacramento. He was a regular starter for the Kings, but the 29-year-old has taken on a drastically reduced role for the Warriors, appearing in only 26 games and averaging 6.6 minutes per game on the season. Even with Festus Ezeli (knee) out for several weeks, Thompson's role is not likely to change, barring another injury to the likes of Andrew Bogut or Marreese Speights.