ORLANDO, FLA.: In perhaps an NBA Finals preview, LeBron James and Kevin Durant matched each other shot for shot for most of Sunday night’s All-Star game. But with the game at stake, it was the shot James didn’t take – and the turnover he did make – that allowed the West to escape with a 152-149 victory on a night Kobe Bryant became the All-Star game’s scoring king.
Durant, the league’s reigning scoring champ, had 36 points and seven rebounds to win his first All-Star MVP award. He fell six points shy of equaling Wilt Chamberlain’s 50-year-old record of 42 points in an All-Star game.
James matched Durant with 36 points, hitting his first five 3-point attempts of the second half to rally the East from a 21-point deficit. But with the East within 151-149, James had possession at the 3-point line with two seconds left and Bryant barking at him.
Bryant was daring James to shoot, to win the game for his team, but James instead forced a pass into a crowd of defenders. The Clippers’ Blake Griffin intercepted the pass, split a pair of free throws and the Heat’s Dwyane Wade, who had a triple-double, missed a contested corner 3-pointer at the buzzer to allow the West to escape.
A dejected James admitted Bryant was daring him to win the game.
“He was telling me to shoot it. I seen my teammate open for a split-second,” James said. “I seen him open the first time and I didn’t release the ball. When I tried to throw it late, that’s what usually happens and it results in a turnover. Definitely wish I could have that one back.”
Before he began agitating James, Bryant surpassed Michael Jordan for the most career points in an All-Star game. Bryant had 27 points Sunday to give him 271 career All-Star points in 13 games. Jordan had 262 points in 13 games.
Bryant raised his eyebrows in surprise and cracked a grin when the announcement was made in the arena, but complained of headaches and skipped his postgame news conference.
The West held an 88-69 lead entering the third quarter and set a record for most points in a half, surpassing the previous mark of 87 set by the West in 1989. The lead grew to 21 in the third quarter before James rallied the East, forcing both teams to play aggressive, intense defense in the final minutes – a rarity in NBA All-Star games.
The Nets’ Deron Williams missed a 3-pointer for the East with the clock winding down, but grabbed the offensive rebound and fired to James. His decision to pass with two seconds left was perhaps another example of him wilting under the pressure of the moment. He was accused of quitting by Cavs owner Dan Gilbert during the playoffs two years ago, vanished in the NBA Finals last summer and refused to take the clutch shot again Sunday after he did the bulk of the work in pulling the East back in the game.
“He made a lot of big plays, he made big shots, great reads,” East coach Tom Thibodeau said of James. “You can call a timeout and allow the defense to get set or you can trust his ability to make a play. He’s shown that he’s capable of making big plays.”
Durant’s MVP award capped what has been a big first half of the season for the Oklahoma City Thunder. His teammate, Russell Westbrook, added 21 points off the bench to complete the Thunder’s big night. Durant knew he had a chance to win the MVP award after the first quarter.
“It’s just exciting to be named an All-Star, but to step it up another level and become MVP, it’s only something that as a kid you dream about,” Durant said. “Coming from where I come from, I didn’t think I’d be here. Everything has just been a blessing to me.”
Dwight Howard was the center of attention throughout All-Star weekend since his future in the host city remains uncertain. He was cheered loudly in pregame introductions, then went quiet for most of the night, finishing with nine points and 10 rebounds.
Howard grabbed the microphone before the game and referred to Orlando as “our city,” but with the trade deadline less than three weeks away, speculation surrounding his future will only intensify.
Asked what he meant by that, Howard responded, “Exactly what I said. That came from the heart.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://cavs.ohio.com. Follow him on Twitter @JasonLloydABJ.