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By Tim Buckley Deseret Morning News
LAS VEGAS — Back when Kobe Bryant was just a pup, playing his first NBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden, Kevin Garnett took care of the Los Angeles Laker.
Sunday night in Las Vegas, Garnett did the same for another first-time All-Star — the Jazz's Mehmet Okur, who scored both of his field goals off passes from the veteran Minnesota Timberwolves big man.
"I told (Okur) I was gonna look out for him," Garnett said. "I helped Kobe when we was in New York. I helped Kobe sort of relax, and be at ease a little bit. I wanted to make sure I did the same for Memo."
One of Bryant's old Laker teammates, however, took a different tack in the Western Conference's 153-132 win over the East at Thomas & Mack Center.
With the West comfortably ahead 127-100 early in the fourth quarter, Miami Heat center Shaquille O'Neal found himself practically alone with the ball just over halfcourt.
Only Okur stood between him and the basket, and the so-called Big Diesel was revving his engine.
For as much as Garnett wanted to help settle Okur, there was nothing he could do to keep the freight train from making a beeline for the basket. Okur, though, never blinked. In fact, he actually laughed, knowing all eyes were on him and O'Neal.
Okur, normally not a gambling man, bet that Shaq would not try to drive 1-on-1 from so high up — and got down into a defensive stance that would have made even Jazz coach Jerry Sloan beam with pride.
"I knew he was gonna take the shot," Okur said, "so I tried to stay in front of him.
"He's got the moves he tried to do on me," he added. "I knew he was gonna do something, like pull up, or like maybe between the legs, maybe turnaround jumper over my hand."
As it turned out, O'Neal simply pulled up and tried a 20-footer that missed the mark.
Okur smiled, Shaq laughed back and — with what was perhaps the second-most entertaining moment of the evening, trailing only the guy who juggled a basketball, a bowling ball and a peanut M&M during a timeout break — a good time was had by all.
"It was fun out there," Okur said.
Early on, though, the joy of taking part in such a scripted showcase event amounted to little more than a long game of hurry up and wait for the 27-year-old Turk.
"It is hard," he said. "You get warmed up, then you stay in the locker room, you got cold, again sit down on the bench."
That was even before he played.
Once Okur entered the game — with two minutes remaining in the opening quarter, the start of a 15-minute showing in which he finished with four points, made his only two shots from the field, missed two free throws, pulled down two rebounds and dished an assist to game MVP Bryant — he mostly watched Western teammates do their thing.
In fact, he had no first-half touches — but understood why.
"I'm first time here; they're all good players," Okur said. "So I tried to enjoy myself out there. Finally, second half, I touched the ball like two times ... and I feel better now."
Okur's first field goal — a 19-footer putting the West up 123-94 — came on a delayed pass from Garnett, who finally caught the Jazz center near the left corner.
"I was open for five seconds," Okur said. "I got confused — like, 'Should I pass the ball, should I look at the basket and shoot the ball?' Because (it was) first time I touched the ball."
The second again came from Garnett, and that one — another 19-footer, making it 127-98 — actually came in the flow of play.
And then Shaq briefly tried to take over the show.
Okur was the lesser billing of the two, but he was the one who wound up with the biggest bow.
"I think I did good on (O'Neal)," Okur said.
And Garnett did good by Okur.