Seattle, WA—Saying that the All-Star Game’s Western Conference contingent at KeyArena today had a plentiful supply of WNBA championship bling would be an understatement. In fact, Seattle’s Breanna Stewart was the West’s only player without at least one WNBA title and four players from the West claim three championships to their name (Diana Taurasi, Rebekkah Brunson, Seimone Augustus, and Maya Moore).
Sitting opposite these decorated WNBA veterans were the electrifying superstars from the East, eight of which were making their debut appearance in the All-Star Game. While clearly unfazed by the moment and exuding confidence, the fresh faces from the East were vanquished 130-121 by a West roster that leaned on premier shooting and veteran leadership.
With the far lower sense of defensive urgency typical of an all-star game, both sides took full advantage. The fast-paced first quarter featured balanced scoring as nine out of 11 players on each roster found the net at least once. West head coach, Cheryl Reeve, put it best during a first quarter timeout when she quipped, “It’s good for TV so far.”
“I thought it was great pace,” said MVP Moore. “You never want anybody to get hurt, but you also want to play with a certain intensity and show off your athleticism. So I thought we did that.”
Moore led all scorers early, gouging the East for nine points within the first six minutes of play. Her third three-pointer was followed by a mischievous smile to Coach Reeve as if to say, “That looks familiar, doesn’t it?” The West held a 35-30 advantage at the conclusion of the first quarter.
While Sue Bird was telling Holly Rowe that she’d like to see more handles from the guards, Jonquel Jones, a 41% shooter from three-point range on the season, took that as her cue to show off her versatility in the second quarter. Jones’ back-to-back three’s handed the East a 44-42 lead midway through the second quarter -- their first lead of the night.
“Jonquel Jones is going to be a problem in this league for a long time,” said Taurasi. “With her stature, the way she can handle and shoot the ball, and she works so easy on the court. I just think she’s got a really bright future.”
Hot shooting from both sides continued, and the first half ended in a 64-64 stalemate.
The day was characterized by joy and unceasing, thousand-watt smiles from the current and future WNBA legends who took the floor. However, a particularly memorable moment in the first half featured Sue Bird throwing some shade to teammate Breanna Stewart. Stewart’s botched finish off of Bird’s impressive behind-the-back dribble, and sweet dish, was met by an incredulous look from her mentor.
The first half stat sheet also made it clear that these WNBA superstars were getting some early prep in for the halftime three-point contest as both sides combined for 20 three-pointers and shot close to 60% from the field in the first two-quarters.
Chicago’s Allie Quigley emerged victorious in the three-point showdown, as her 27 treys were enough to edge Sugar Rodgers, who put up a valiant effort with 22 in the opening round and 19 in the final round.
In the third quarter, things remained tenuous, but Chelsea “Big Shot” Gray’s two three-pointers in the final three minutes of the frame gave the West a lead they would not relinquish. The West ended the third quarter on a 17-6 run and took a 96-85 lead headed into the final period.
Despite the East’s best efforts, including a jaw-dropping, fourth quarter dunk from Jones, elite facilitating and silky three-point shooting from their veterans in Moore, Bird, Taurasi, and Candace Parker kept the West’s double digit lead intact down the stretch. The West ultimately clinched a 130-121 win in front of an impassioned Seattle crowd, shooting an impressive 57% from the floor and hitting 19 three-pointers.
For someone who told NBA TV before today’s game, that she was sporting light camo Air Jordan kicks, because the All-Star Game involved “lighter work,” there was nothing casual about Maya Moore’s performance. Looking very reminiscent of her 2015 self when she put up 30 points and was named All-Star MVP, Moore contributed 23 points en route to earning her second All-Star MVP honor.
“That’s just Maya,” said Coach Reeve. “She only knows one way, whether it’s an All-Star Game or whether it’s Game 5 of The Finals. That’s what makes her really, really special.”
Another standout for the West was Nneka Ogwumike, who posted 22 points and seven rebounds. Well-acquainted with all-star appearances, Taurasi finished the day with 12 points.
The East was highlighted by Jones’ 24 points and nine rebounds along with Atlanta’s Clarendon, who put the basketball world on notice that there is a wave of capable young guards ready to take over when the likes of Bird and Lindsay Whalen decide to hang it up. Clarendon had 14 points, and her 10 assists mark the most ever dishes in an all-star debut.
“It’s fun right now in the East,” said Coach Curt Miller. “There are a lot of young faces in this league that are poised to be the faces of the future, and a lot of those reside in the East. Really excited to be a part of that.”
Finally, Seattle’s sweetheart, Bird, posted 11 assists—meaning she now adds the record for most assists in an all-star game to her already dazzling resume.
While it’s easy to chalk today’s game up to the timeless theme of experience vs. youth, this game represented much more of a passing of the torch and a lens into the future than it did a battle for bragging rights between bitter rivals.
The veterans of the West, undoubtedly, relished the chance to give their younger counterparts in the East a lesson in the law, but it also gave them a rare opportunity to impart the legacy—on and off the basketball court—that they are relying on these next-gen stars to carry on in their absence down the road.