By Ron Wynn
Western conference superstars Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant prevented their team from blowing a huge lead in the NBA All-Star Game Sunday night. Durant, voted the game’s MVP, scored 36 points. Bryant added 27 in a 152-149 West victory. But it was an exciting contest for the last quarter and a half. Prior to that point, the Western All-Stars had set a first half scoring record with 89 points, and established a 21-point lead. Then Miami’s dynamic duo of Lebron James and Dwayne Wade went to work. They steadily reduced the deficit with acrobatic dunks and long-range three-pointers. They cut the lead to one point in the fourth quarter, and had a chance to go ahead.
But the Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin saved the day in the final seconds. He stepped into the passing lanes and intercepted Lebron James’ flip into the corner, where the New Jersey Nets’ Deron Williams was waiting to attempt the go-ahead field goal. Griffin was fouled, and made one of two with 1.1 seconds remaining. After a time out, Wade took a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer that missed, giving the West its narrow win. Griffin had 22 points, as well as the night’s biggest defensive play. Wade became the third player in All-Star Game history to record a triple double. He scored 24 points, while adding 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Only Michael Jordan and James had previously accomplished that feat.
Still, though Durant captured the MVP trophy, Bryant made personal history. His third quarter dunk gave Bryant 262 All-Star points in 13 appearances. He entered the game with 244 and concluded it with 271. Bryant broke Michael Jordan’s career All-Star game scoring mark (262). He also passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (251) and Oscar Robertson (246). The MVP award helped Durant compensate for an inability to guard James throughout much of the East’s comeback. James hit two long three-pointers with Durant guarding him. Then Durant missed a free throw with 18 seconds left and the score 151-149.
“Just being a competitor,” James told the Associated Press afterwards. “They pretty much beat us up for much of the game, but we made a strong run late.” James also acknowledged his critical turnover. “I can’t turn the ball over like that. I let my team down. But overall, it was a great weekend.” James’ increased his All-Star average to a glittering 25.9 in eight appearances. This was the All-Star game’s first return to Orlando in nearly 20 years, and much of the pregame conversation concerned whether Dwight Howard would be on the Magic after the mid-March trade deadline. He had an uninspired game, with nine points and 10 rebounds. He complimented Orlando in pregame remarks, and said he “hasn’t seen the city like this since the (2009) finals.” But he didn’t change his tune in regards to his trade demands. “Exactly what I said,” Howard told USA Today. “Nothing More, nothing less. I said exactly how I feel, from the heart. That came from the heart.”
Bryant got a broken nose for his efforts, the result of a hard third quarter foul from Wade. “I obviously didn’t try to draw blood, but I took a foul.” Wade said. It was Wade and James who sparked the final East surge. They scored 15 of their team’s 19 points. The pair took over the offense at the 4:42 mark, when it was 142-130. The teams tied the record for most points in a half, with 157 over the first 24 minutes. There were some 45 dunks. The 152-149 final tally was yet another record, this one for most points in a non-overtime All-Star game.
One record that stood was Wilt Chamberlain’s 42 points, the most ever scored by one player. Durant is certainly a possibility to someday break that barrier, as well as James or Wade. But he dismissed notions he would be facing the James/Wade duo (and fellow All-Star Chris Bosh) later in the NBA finals. “You’re taking (that) down the line, man, it’s too early for that,” Durant said.
In fact, while Oklahoma City and Miami are tied for the league’s best mark at 27-7, there are other threats lurking in the West. San Antonio seems reborn with a younger nucleus. They have the NBA’s longest win streak this season at 11. Dallas has gotten back on course, and leads the NBA in scoring defense. Miami’s principal threat in the East seems the Chicago Bulls. They are only a couple of games behind Miami despite losing Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Richard Hamilton for long stretches. Philadelphia and Indiana are much improved, but neither looks like they could beat either the Bulls or Heat in a seven-game playoff series.
The NBA resumes regular-season play this week, as the teams continue squeezing 66 games into 2/3 of a normal year. The trading deadline is March 15.