Anthony Edwards of the Minnesota Timberwolves dunks against Pascal Siakam...

Anthony Edwards of the Minnesota Timberwolves dunks against Pascal Siakam of the Toronto Raptors in the NBA All Star Game at Vivint Arena on Sunday in Salt Lake City, Utah. Credit: Getty Images/Pool

It’s rare that any mic’d-up content is worth listening to, but in the middle of Sunday night’s NBA All-Star Game, Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone, tasked with coaching in this game, leaned over laughing and said, “You know how hard it is for me to not call a timeout now?”

Malone knew better, well aware that a timeout wasn’t going to change anything in this game. No matter how much he implored his team of All-Stars, he wasn’t going to get a call for defense answered.

If the NBA wants a more offensive-minded, higher-scoring product, this seemed to be the end result — defenders moving out of the way for a procession of baskets that quickly devolved into boredom. “That’s not basketball,” Jaylen Brown told reporters, calling the game a glorified layup line.

After all the conjecture about Mac McClung saving the Slam Dunk competition, maybe even he can’t save the All-Star Game.

“It’s an honor to be here, and it’s an honor to be a part of a great weekend with great players, but that’s the worst basketball game ever played,” Malone said. “I don’t know if you can fix it. I give Joel Embiid and Kyrie Irving [credit], those two guys were competing. They tried to get some defense in. No one got hurt, they put on a show for the fans, but that’s a tough game to sit through, I’m not going to lie.”

The NBA thought it had found a way to create some two-way intensity in the game in 2020 when the league first experimented with the “Elam Ending,” putting a target score in place in the fourth quarter. That All-Star Game in Chicago ended in a 157-155 final score, with teams actually defending with intensity and Kyle Lowry even stepping in to take a pair of charges.

After that game, LeBron James said, “None of us knew what to expect. But throughout the whole fourth quarter and at the end of the game, everybody was like, ‘That was pretty damn fun.’ ”

This time the defense never materialized. The only way stops seemed to come was when players decided to turn the All-Star Game into a half-court shooting contest. “Coach Malone is a defense-minded coach,” James said. “I had him in my early days in Cleveland. I told him I would get one stop tonight for him. I tried to get one little chase-down block and got my finger caught in the rim.”

The only time any defensive effort seemed in place was when Brown and Celtics teammate Jayson Tatum embarked on a one-on-one contest, with the other eight players moving aside and watching.

While most pointed to McClung’s performance as a saving move for the Slam Dunk contest, it wasn’t just McClung who performed this time. What made the entire tournament better was that it wasn’t littered with missed dunks, as it had been in recent years. McClung made all four of his dunks, earning perfect scores on three of them. Jericho Sims converted both of his attempts without a misfire. Trey Murphy III missed only one, and even fourth-place finisher K.J. Martin didn’t turn it into a night in which fans just wanted to see the dunk finally converted.

For the actual All-Star Game, though, missed shots in the paint were a rarity, and that wasn’t a good thing. When the Elam Ending went into effect in the fourth quarter, Team LeBron still shot 62.5%, and while Team Giannis dipped to 47.6%, it was 5-for-6 inside the arc (and 5-for-15 from long range).

Asked if he expected more defense, Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards said, “In the fourth, yeah, I thought it would be a little more defense, but it wasn’t at all.”

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