A team led by LeBron James prevailed against a squad headed by rival Stephen Curry on Sunday night, 148-145, in the league's first player-drafted NBA All-Star Game.
Fans hoping for a more competitive game under the new format, especially with boosted player incentives (player and charity payouts), would not be disappointed down the stretch.
Late in the fourth quarter, with Team Stephen ahead eight, 136-128, Team LeBron's Kyrie Irving drove down the lane and dished to James for a layup and a foul, cutting the lead to five after the resulting free throw.
Moments later, Team LeBron's Kevin Durant connected with Russell Westbrook, on a layup to cut the lead to one.
The defensive effort picked up intensity as well, as Team LeBron forced Giannis Antetokounmpo to commit a double-dribble while Team Stephen clung to a slim, one-point lead.
First-time All-Star Joel Embiid scored a layup to push the lead to three. However, James would exploit Embiid on the other end, pulling up for a three, as the center gave up a wide gap of space.
Officiating would come into question, with the game tied, 144-144, Embiid would appear to dribble the ball out-of-bounds off his own foot. However, following an extensive replay review, the officials would -- incorrectly -- award Team Stephen the ball. Embiid would make-up for the near turnover on the defensive end, blocking a layup attempt by Paul George.
Down one point, following a free throw by DeMar DeRozan, Kyrie Irving would again connect with James for the go-ahead layup. Irving finished with a team-high nine assists to go with his 13 points.
James Harden would miss a three-point shot, and DeRozan would throw a bad pass, giving the ball back to Team LeBron.
On the ensuing inbounds play, LeBron would toss the ball full-court to Russell Westbrook for a layup to push the lead to three.
Of course, the testament to whether the new format and increased player incentives would actually work would be defense.
Fitting, then, that the final play of the game -- with a three-point lead in-hand -- was a defensive trap in the corner that prevented Team Stephen from getting a good look to tie the game.
A near-triple-double resulted in LeBron James being awarded the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player award, as he finished with a game-high 29 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists.
'Can you dig it!'
The night was a spectacle, both good and bad, from start to finish.
Retired NBA icon Shaquille O'Neal kicked things off before the game, imploring fans outside the STAPLES Center to get loud with his trademarked rally cry, "Can you dig it!"
All-Star Game host Kevin Hart was joined by fellow comedian Rob Riggle in what turned out to be a musical showcase wherein Hart explored and ultimately gave up on his dreams of being an NBA All-Star. Instead, he settled on being an "all-star comedian" and an "all-star host."
However, regardless of his "all-star comedic abilities," the team introductions -- complete with bad jokes about Goran Dragic's "dragon breath" and Hart's own inability to pronounce Giannis Antetokounmpo's family name, were not well-received. Many people on Twitter were confused and unimpressed with the introduction to the Association's mid-season spectacle.
As if things couldn't get worse, Fergie -- famous for her years as the vocalist for the Black Eyed Peas -- performed a rendition of the National Anthem that had some fans cringing.
From the tip-off, the game kept fans engaged.
Team Stephen jumped out to an early, 11-point lead, led by first-time All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns, who had 11 points off the bench after one quarter of play. He finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Team captain Curry had an off night, failing to score his first basket until about three minutes remaining in the second quarter. He finished with just 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting from the floor.
Following a run by Team LeBron to, briefly, take the lead in the second quarter, Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo led the charge to push Team Stephen back to a double-digit lead, 70-58. However, Paul George came up big, scoring eight of Team LeBron's final 11 points to cut the lead to two at halftime.
Stephen Curry's moment to shine really came late in the third quarter, when trailing by four, 105-109, he scored a short runner, assisted on a layup by Karl-Anthony Towns, and hit a three-pointer to retake the lead, 112-109, going into the final 12-minutes of regulation.
Considering the changes made to the All-Star Game format were intended to give fans a more competitive game to watch, commissioner Adam Silver and the league office should consider this year's format a success.
No conference teams, no problems.
This year, the two players who received the most fan votes were named team captains. That honor went to both James of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Curry from the defending league-champion Golden State Warriors. Both players then drafted their respective teams from the remaining All-Stars in the same manner as you or I might draft a team for a pickup game at the local recreation center.
Team LeBron had a much different look on game night, following injuries to four of his team's players: starter DeMarcus Cousins and All-Star reserves Kevin Love, John Wall and Kristaps Porzingis. Despite missing a handful of games leading up to the All-Star break, LaMarcus Aldridge did show up ready to play, although he would be held to a strict minutes-restriction, seeing only four minutes of action.
DeMar DeRozan and Damian Lillard led Team Stephen with 21 points each. Kyle Lowry was the high-man in assists, racking up 11 in 21 minutes of play off the bench. Embiid had 19 points, eight rebounds, and two blocks.
Durant was a stat-sheet stuffer, finishing with 19 points, six rebounds, five assists, three steals, and one block. Westbrook joined James in nearly having a triple-double, ending with 11 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists.
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