LOS ANGELES — In the end, it was every bit of what it has become over the years. Nothing more, nothing less.
The NBA’s 67th annual midseason celebration was part-basketball game, part-showbiz extravaganza, part-house party, and, by night’s end, everybody seemed to have had a good time at the All-Star Game on Sunday at Staples Center.
Under the watchful gaze of legends Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell and Jerry West, who were seated together at courtside, Team LeBron James rallied from a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter to take a 148-145 victory from Team Stephen Curry.
James scored the go-ahead basket on a left-handed finger-roll layup with 34.5 seconds remaining and then assisted on Russell Westbrook’s layup with 10.7 seconds to play after a turnover. Team LeBron denied Curry a tying 3-point attempt in the final, frantic seconds to hold on to win.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) February 19, 2018
“We got stops when we needed to,” Westbrook said.
James scored 29 points on 12-for-17 shooting and added 10 rebounds and eight assists and was named the MVP for the third time in his career. Kevin Durant scored 19 points and Paul George added 16 for Team LeBron, which trailed 133-120 after Damian Lillard of Team Steph buried a jump shot with 6:57 left.
At 33, James was the oldest player in the game.
“I respect the younger guys,” he said when asked about representing an older generation of players. “They’ve got to keep this thing going, for sure. What I take pride in is taking care of my body. I make sure I’m available every night and continue to get better and better.
“I don’t really take it, as, ‘This is a young guy, OK, I need to show him I can do this.’ I need to continue to show myself. Every night I step on the floor, I have to lead my guys and prove to myself I can still play at a high level. I feel great.”
Lillard and DeMar DeRozan each scored 21 points for Team Steph, which led by as many as 15 points in the first half. Joel Embiid added 19 points and eight rebounds. Curry scored 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting, with six rebounds and five assists.
The NBA went away from its traditional Eastern Conference vs. Western format for this All-Star Game, with team captains James and Curry picking sides. It was a new wrinkle, one that produced an entertaining, competitive game with a late defensive stand determining the final outcome.
“The mix of the players was cool, it was different,” Durant said. “To play with Kemba, LeBron, Bradley and guys from the Eastern Conference, you mix it up and get to know them on a different level, so when you play with them your respect level just rises up.”
The All-Stars’ shooting percentages and final scores were way down from recent seasons, reflecting the effort on the floor. The relaxed All-Star vibe was still at Staples, however: Curry chowed down on a box of popcorn on the bench during the third quarter, and the stars made time and room for plenty of good-looking dunks and alley-oops.
The intriguing ending overshadowed a clunky start.
Kevin Hart acted as the pregame emcee, rattling off a string of unfunny one-liners as he introduced the members of Team LeBron and Team Steph. Fans expecting to see basketball a few minutes past 5 p.m. gave Hart the sort of tepid responses you’d expect from your local Chuckle Hut.
Barenaked Ladies performed “O Canada.” Fergie then sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” in such a slow, breathless tempo that Draymond Green was caught on camera with his mouth wide open, clearly trying to figure out whether she was channeling Marilyn Monroe.
Either way, it was a swing-and-a-miss start to a game devoid of local heroes for the Staples Center fans to cheer. After all, this was the first time since the 1996 game in San Antonio’s Alamodome that there were no Lakers or Clippers in the contest.
Lou Williams and Tobias Harris of the Clippers competed in All-Star Saturday Night events and Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma of the Lakers participated in the Rising Stars Game on Friday. The main event was all about Warriors, Cavaliers, Thunder, Rockets, Celtics and so many others.
That wasn’t to say Southern California wasn’t represented, because it was.
Six players with local connections were here: DeRozan (Compton), George (Palmdale), Westbrook (Lawndale), James Harden (Artesia), Kevin Love (UCLA) and Klay Thompson (Rancho Santa Margarita). Love couldn’t play because of an injury, but sat on the Team LeBron bench.
What’s more, the teams were playing for the L.A.-area charity of their choice, with the winning team donating $350,000 and the losers giving $150,000. Team LeBron played for After-School All-Stars Los Angeles. Team Steph played for Brotherhood Crusade.
Each member of the winning team made a cool $100,000, a distinct raise from previous seasons in another attempt to make things more interesting.
“It was a great weekend and we capped it off the right way,” James said.
TEAM STEPH: Jimmy Butler didn’t play after being selected for the fourth time. … First-time All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns was outstanding. The Minnesota forward with 17 points and 10 reobunds.
TEAM LEBRON: Three first-time All-Stars suited up. Washington’s Bradley Beal scored 14 points, Miami’s Goran Dragic had two and Indiana’s Victor Oladipo got seven.
LeBron lost four of his original selections to injuries, including Cleveland teammate Kevin Love, Kristaps Porzingis and John Wall. Anthony Davis represented his fellow New Orleans All-Star, DeMarcus Cousins, by wearing Cousins’ No. 0 jersey to start the game.
HOLLYWOOD HOME GAME
The All-Star weekend was held in Hollywood for a record sixth time. A partial list of celebrities attending the game: Jack Nicholson, Beyonce, Rihanna, Snoop Dogg, Chadwick Boseman, Chance the Rapper, Jimmy Kimmel, Michael B. Jordan, Chris Rock, Ludacris, Common, Spike Lee, Andy Garcia, Dave Chappelle, DJ Khaled, Tracy Morgan, Sean Combs, Odell Beckham Jr. and pregame host Kevin Hart, who lobbed roast-style jokes at the All-Stars with mostly blah results. After a much-criticized pregame national anthem from Fergie, N.E.R.D and Migos performed an energizing halftime show.
The All-Stars’ 3-point accuracy was hardly world-class, with Harden going 2 for 13 and Westbrook going 1 for 6. Team Steph was a combined 17 for 65 beyond the arc, including 3-for-11 for Curry.
The 68th NBA All-Star Game will be in Charlotte on Feb. 17, 2019. North Carolina was scheduled to host the 2017 All-Star Game, but lost it in July 2016 because of the state legislature’s Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, which is considered by many to be discriminatory. Hornets owner Michael Jordan got a standing ovation when he appeared at center court alongside Lakers owner Jeanie Buss and Clippers owner Steve Ballmer to reveal the logo for next year’s game.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
— NBA (@NBA) February 19, 2018
“Myself and Steph, we took it upon ourself when we decided to do this format that we had to change the landscape of how the All-Star Game was played.” – @KingJames after winning the #NBAAllStar Game MVP and leading #TeamLeBron
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) February 19, 2018