UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Candace Parker put on a show in her All-Star debut.
Parker scored a record 23 points to lead the West to a 102-98 victory over the East on Saturday.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Parker said. “I hadn’t been to one, and this was really special. Being with all these great players and share stories, that’s why I’ll remember from this All-Star Game more than what happened on the court.”
The Los Angeles Sparks star was voted a starter for the 2011 game, but couldn’t play because of a knee injury. She also missed the 2009 game because she was still recovering from the birth of her daughter.
“Things happen,” Parker said. “I learned not to question them and go on my path and take whatever comes. It happened to work out this way.”
The wait was worth it as Parker, who earned the game’s MVP honors.
Parker and her West teammates were more excited that got the victory for retiring star Tina Thompson.
“We didn’t want her to go out with a loss,” said Parker.
Thompson announced her retirement at the end of the season. West coach Cheryl Reeve put her back in the lineup with a few seconds left to get one final ovation from the fans.
Parker helped the league overcome the loss of Brittney Griner and top vote-getter Elena Delle Donne, who sat out because of injuries. The pair have been an attendance and ratings boon for the league.
Griner missed Phoenix’s last five games with a sprained knee and Delle Donne suffered a concussion.
They were poised to make history as the first pair of rookies from the same class to start as All-Stars.
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.
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.
East coach Lin Dunn, who it was announced will be inducted into the women’s basketball Hall of Fame next year, joked that there was a simple reason her team came up short.
“They had Candace and we didn’t,” she said laughing.
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.
“I see it every day,” Parker said of her Sparks teammate. “She’s one of the best shooters ever. I was proud of the way she came out and played within herself.”
Toliver, who was playing in her first All-Star game, scored 19 of her 21 points in the second half to help the West rally.
“Being here this weekend was a lot of joy,” she said. It was humbling to be here but I feel like I belong.”
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 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.