For the third year running, and the fourth time in the past five years, the Western Conference All-Stars triumphed over their counterparts in the East. Chris Paul led the West, putting up 20 points, 15 assists, and 4 steals; deservedly taken home MVP honours, as the West were victorious, 143-138. The NBA’s top point-guard wowed the crowd some sick crossovers (Poor Chris Bosh!), a steady diet of alley-oops for his teammate Blake Griffin, and a couple dagger 3s late in the fourth. The shot of the game was undoubtedly his trifecta in the face of Joakim Noah. Noah, one of a handful of players trying to play defense, gave Paul just enough room to prevent himself getting beaten off the dribble, but after couple quick dribbles through his own legs, Paul swished through the 3.
But despite Paul’s brilliance all of the talk at the end of the game was about Kobe Bryant’s defense on LeBron James. Generally speaking players don’t try very hard at the defensive end in All-Star games—if you want to drive the hoop, you’re probably going to have that luxury. But, as we all know, Kobe’s ultra-competitive nature is unrivalled in the NBA. Perhaps it was his natural state of competitiveness that led him to play tight man-to-man defense on LeBron down the stretch—a desire to put his own imprint on a game in which he’d been offensively anonymous by his own high standards—but there may have been something else in play.
LeBron was inevitably asked about his idol’s comments all weekend and responded definitely that his does not define himself by what others say about him. LeBron stated logically that Bill Russell’s 11 titles didn’t make him a better player than Jordan; or that Robert Horry’s 7, don’t make him better than Kobe.
But, of course, Kobe wanted to hammer home a point—even if it was just 5 minutes in an All-Star game. With the East trailing by 8 in the final quarter, LeBron moved to his left and went up for a jump shot. Kobe came in from the side and blocked James cleanly, leading to a Kevin Durant dunk at the other end that put the West up by 10. And Kobe continued to hound LeBron later in the quarter, blocking him again and forcing the ball out of bounds. Of course, Kobe’s 5-minute defensive cameo changes nothing. LeBron James is the better basketball player—the best basketball player on Planet Earth, infact—but Kobe, forever conscious of his legacy, seemed determined to show the world that he’s the closest thing to Jordan we’ve seen in the NBA. And to be fair, given the Lakers’ ineptitude, that’s probably the last time Kobe will get a chance to test his skills against LeBron this year.
But James wasn’t at his mercurial best in this game. He struggled early on, with his Miami teammate Dwayne Wade keeping the East afloat in the first half. LeBron picked things up at the start of the 3rd quarter, but was outplayed in this game by his opponent at the small forward position: Kevin Durant. Durant, as everyone points out, is built for All-Star games. When you can shoot from anywhere on the floor, and over everyone, it’s not hard to rack up the points. Durant finished with 30 and became the first player in All-Star history to score 30 points in 3 consecutive All-Star games. And Durant left everyone wondering whether should put his name in the hat for next year’s slam-dunk contest. A number of his dunks in this game would’ve given Saturday’s night’s contestants a run for their money.