UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Candace Parker had a blast in her All-Star debut.
Parker scored a record 23 points to lead the West to a 102-98 win over the East on Saturday and earn MVP honors.
The Los Angeles Sparks star was voted a starter for the 2011 game, but she couldn’t play because of a knee injury. This time, she put on a show.
Brittney Griner and top vote-getter Elena Delle Donne sat out because of injuries, but there was plenty of talent on display in a game that featured a ref cam and in-huddle mics.
Griner has missed Phoenix’s last five games with a sprained left knee and Delle Donne suffered a concussion in Chicago’s game on Thursday. They were poised to make history as the first pair of rookies from the same class to start the WNBA All-Star game.
But Griner sat on the bench, while Delle Donne recovered at home in Delaware.
“It hurts not being able to play, but I’m having a lot of fun just cheering,” Griner said.
Even though the rookies couldn’t play, the WNBA had seven other first-time All-Stars in the game. That didn’t even include Parker.
Despite joking before the game that she was “too old” to dunk, Parker threw down a few in warmups.
After a quiet first half, she helped rally the West after the break. With her team trailing by 11 early in the third quarter, Parker scored seven straight points. After the foul by Tamika Catchings, Parker flexed her muscles and used a nifty stutter-step from the wing for an easy layup. Parker finished off her run with another lay-in.
That seemed to signal the start of a more serious tone to the game. After Sparks teammate Kristi Toliver hit back-to-back 3-pointers to the tie game, Ivory Latta hit her own 3-pointers to give the East an 81-74 advantage heading into the final period.
Parker, who finished with 11 rebounds, and Toliver wouldn’t let the West lose for the fourth time in the past five All-Star games. Parker broke Swin Cash’s All-Star game record of 22 points with a layup midway through the fourth quarter.
Trailing 100-98 with 30 seconds left, the East had a chance to take the lead, but Cappie Pondexter missed a 3-pointer. Parker got the rebound and Toliver sealed the win by hitting two free throws.
Toliver finished with 21 points. Epiphanny Prince and Latta scored 15 points each to lead the East.
While a lot of the league’s young talent was on display Saturday, the All-Star game also served as a farewell for Tina Thompson, who made her record ninth All-Star appearance. She announced her retirement at the end of the season. The 17-year veteran was an injury replacement for Griner.
Thompson had a rough start game missing all five of her attempts from the field.
The game also featured the return of referee cam, with Lamont Simpson wearing a device that looks like a pair of glasses. The veteran official caught a pre-game dance off between the East and West. Maya Moore floored the sell-out crowd by breaking out the old-school dance move the worm. She repeated the move when she was introduced as a starter.
Simpson admitted that after he first wore the ref cam in June, he received a lot of emails and texts from friends.
In the fourth quarter, Simpson approached Latta on the court and joked that “there’s never been a technical foul in the history of the All-Star game.”
In another first, the game was coached by two women for the only time in its 11-year history. Lin Dunn of Indiana coached the East and Cheryl Reeve of Minnesota was in charge of the West.
Reeve had four Minnesota Lynx players on her West squad. Moore and Seimone Augustus were voted as starters. Reeve chose Lynx center Rebekkah Brunson to replace Griner in the starting lineup.
Minnesota point guard Lindsay Whalen was the first sub in for the West, replacing Taurasi. That produced four Lynx players, who also were on the 2011 All-Star team, on the court at the same time.
The four Lynx stars combined for 24 of the West’s 29 points in the first quarter. Moore and Brunson each had nine, with Brunson keeping the ball alive on many possessions. She had six boards in the opening period.