LOS ANGELES – This time, there wasn’t a player lying on the court instead of defending. This time, there weren’t so many open lanes for a free-for-all dunkfest like last year’s debacle.
In a lot of ways, Sunday’s 148-145 victory for Team LeBron was still a loosey-goosey All-Star exhibition. But it turned fiercely competitive in the second half – especially down the stretch – and ended when DeMar DeRozan couldn’t get off a potential tying 3-pointer by the buzzer because of swarming defense.
“We wanted to change the narrative of the All-Star game being a joke,” said Team LeBron starting forward Kevin Durant. “The game was so good and competitive. It was the best one that I was a part of.”
LeBron James won his third All-Star MVP after scoring 29 points with nine rebounds and eight assists. He also hit the go-ahead bucket with 35 seconds remaining, coincidentally off an assist from former Cavs teammate Kyrie Irving.
“Jealousy,” Team LeBron coach Dwane Casey said of coaching James for the first time. “I’m jealous of (Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue) that he has someone like that. Because, again, we all know how great a player he is. We’re going to try to beat him as much as we can back in Toronto.”
It was the first All-Star game in nine years that didn’t include a Knick. Kristaps Porzingis was selected as a reserve but did not play after tearing his ACL. In his absence, James led all scorers and DeRozan paced Team Stephen with 21 points.
The lack of competitiveness in 2017 — when the East and West combined for 374 points — prompted the league and the players union to make some changes and add an incentive of $ 100,000 for each winning player. Losing players get $ 25,000 each. In addition, the winning team gets $ 350,000 donated to the charity of the captain’s choice.
Still, James dumped on the idea that the new format — which also included a draft to determine the rosters — created a greater desire to win. “It’s more important that I get every one of my guys back healthy,” he told TNT in the second quarter. “We can get some good conditioning with this game.”
Steph Curry, who last year lay down on the court instead of trying to contest a dunk, furthered that notion Sunday when he was spotted on the bench eating popcorn.
But both the team captains ratcheted up the intensity in the final minutes, when the sides treated each possession like it was the regular season, Team Stephen’s Joel Embiid came up with a big block and LeBron celebrated the victory by leaping in the air.
Despite their very messy separation in Cleveland over the summer, James and Irving were teammates Sunday in the All-Star Game (by LeBron’s choice) and were acting real chummy in the leadup to their first night on the same squad since the 2017 NBA Finals.
Everything went smoothly on the court as well, with James throwing his first pass of the game to Irving and the pair combining for 17 assists.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Irving said about being with James again.
James also drafted Durant and Westbrook – who endured their own ugly divorce, though they were being friendly again in L.A. All of them were on the court – James, Irving, Durant and Westbrook – when the final buzzer sounded.
“The narrative surrounding and circulating and kind of the opinions of what the All-Star Game has kind of turned into — I think we all took it kind of personal,” Irving said. “Individually we wanted to come out and be competitive.”