All-Star Argentina: game report
If you live outside Argentina you could be forgiven for thinking that last nights All-Star Game (Juego de Las Estrellas) is just another game, something small you may imagine. However, most Basketball fans know differently, and as the second biggest sport in the country, Argentina has a huge thirst for the game and it reflects that with this yearly bonanza.
This game is played out between the best picks of home-grown (Nacionales) players against the best foreign imports to Argentina’s Liga A (Extranjeros), and this year proved to be a vibrant, good spirited game in which the import team run out 99-113 winners.
The truth is, while I settled in to watch the match I was taken aback by just how big it all is, and in fact I would say it is second only to the glitz and glam of the NBA All-Star Game. Here in Buenos Aires they know how to put on a good sporting event, and take even minority sports seriously, so I should have known to expect something special for a sport they hold so dearly.
The Estadio Poli Islas Malvinas in the glitzy beach town of Mar del Plata was at its 8,000 capacity, but this being Argentina it felt more like 20,000, and the spectators knew they were going to get a good show. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Juego de Las Estrellas, so this was a night of celebration where we got to see interviews with All-Star legends Raul Merlo (dunk contest winner 1988), Hector Campana (3-time dunk champ and All-Star MVP), and Leonardo Masieri (3-point champ 2007, 2008, 2009).
The players were introduced to the arena by “Agapornis”, a band currently popular here in Argentina, and it was clear to see that they were there to have a good time. The mood was jovial, especially among the dancing Extranjeros, and this feel-good nature carried to the court for much of the game, meaning a quiet evening at the office for referee Pablo Estaven.
At the tip-off, the import team raced out of the blocks with nine unanswered points, all coming courtesy of David Jackson (196 cm, Penn State’07, Indalo) from the field. This was a trend that was going to define the evening as Jackson laid an early stake for MVP while the import team would come out hot after every interval but cool as a quarter wore on.
The quarter closed with the import team winning 26-28, while the early signs were suggesting that the home team would struggle to maintain consistency against their opponents. The second quarter started much the same as the 1st. A John DeGroat (198 cm, Pittsburgh’06, Boca Juniors) Dunk and another 3 from Jackson helped the import team open up a 10 point lead, but again errors crept into the team in the final third and it allowed the home players team to rally. By half-time the score read 50-54 in favour of the imports.
The third quarter proved to be even, with both teams trading blows at the hoops, however the home players’ team did manage to claim the lead for the first time in the match, although they would be losing at the buzzer 80-81. During the third, Leonardo Gutierrez (201 cm, Penarol) emerged as a contender for MVP on his way to a 20-point haul, which would have been a popular choice with the crowd considering Gutierrez plays for Penrol, the Liga A franchise that calls the Estadio Islas Malvinas home.
The early stages of the 4th seemed cagey, with no team willing to take the initiative to go for the win, until at 87-88 the imports team found another gear and outscored their opponents by 26-12 for the remainder of the game. Of course, the ever dangerous Jackson was on hand to pick baskets, and his scoring pushed the imports to victory by 99-113.
Jackson had emerged in the 4th as the only choice for MVP; with 30 points, 2 rebounds, and 8 scores from beyond the three point line he was the clear favourite and rightly picked up the award. DeGoat hauled 15-points, while Juan Gutierrez (205 cm, Obras) managed to bag 15-points for the home team.
Of course, no All-Star game would be complete without a three-point contest and a slam dunk tournament, and the Argentinians delivered on both.
Bruno Labaque (180 cm, Atenas), and Juan Espil (194 cm, Bahia) claimed the three-point contest with an impressive display of shooting from the line.
The slam dunk tournament was a load of fun, with Tayavek Gallizi picking up the win. DeCorey Young (201 cm, Cordoba) had looked good to take the victory, but his failed second dunk saw him pick up just 25-points. That opened the door for Gallizi, after dunking over people sitting in chairs for his first attempt, he now just needed a solid dunk to seal the victory, and he did just that with a total of 95-points over his two efforts.
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