Without Alcindor to control the middle, the NBA found itself weakest in the position where it was supposed to have been strongest. The ABA's Mel Daniels and Zelmo Beaty outscored Nate Thurmond and Elvin Hayes 25-20 and outrebounded them 21-19. The score was tied at the end of the first period, and the NBA led by a basket at the half, but the players from the older league appeared sluggish, rarely running effective breaks and defending loosely.
Midway in the third period, after the ABA had built a seven-point lead, the NBA showed by its increased aggressiveness that it finally realized the other league's team was stronger than anticipated. The NBA's bigger forwards, particularly Dave DeBusschere, took control of the rebounds. At guard, Earl Monroe, Robertson, Dave Bing and Walt Frazier started to penetrate, as the ABA's Charlie Scott did throughout the game. Frazier, who was the high scorer with 26 points and who had several steals, worked clear for jump shots, hitting 11 of 16. The other three backcourt men, none of whom the ABA was able to guard without fouling, wheeled into the middle. They scored only eight field goals among them but shot 26 free throws in the second half. In all, the NBA took 70 foul shots and missed 30—an indication of how rusty some of the players had become. "I know one thing, I'll never come to a game like this again without being in shape," said Thurmond, who was 1 for 5 from the field and 1 for 6 from the foul line. "I figured I'd only play about 12 minutes and let Lew do the rest."
The NBA's noticeable increase in combativeness helped build a 10-point lead by the middle of the fourth quarter. But the ABA, proving it could compete even when everyone was clearly playing hard, cut the edge to one point in the final minute. With the ABA's rules and ball being used in the second half, the new league's All-Stars still had a chance to tie the game on a three-point field goal with 0:32 remaining. But Frazier forced a turnover on the inbounds pass to protect his team's lead.
In their locker room later, the NBA players quietly praised some of the ABA's stars—Scott, Daniels and Willie Wise, who shot, rebounded and defended well—and agreed that Rick Barry, who once had led them in scoring, had not suffered from competing in the other league. Russell, who also had warmed to the contest in the second half, gave perhaps the final indication of acceptance when he asked an ABA visitor, "Hey, where do I get one of those red, white and blue balls?"