Team Lebron 178, Team Giannis 164
When: 8:00 PM ET, Sunday, February 17, 2019
Where: Spectrum Center, Charlotte
Special to Digital Sports Desk by Field Level Media
CHARLOTTE – Kevin Durant scored 31 points and won MVP honors after outdueling Giannis Antetokounmpo to lift Team LeBron to a 178-164 win Sunday night in the 2019 NBA All-Star Game.
In the “First in Flight” city, players showed up Sunday ready to launch. Team LeBron attempted 90 3-pointers (hitting 35), and the teams combined for 167 tries from deep.
Durant helped put the game away for Team LeBron with a 3-pointer with two minutes left for a 171-160 lead. Kyrie Irving made a leaning floater and Durant hit a 15-footer from the wing to seal it.
“It’s cool to be out there with some of the best players to ever play the game, and to win an MVP here in front of my family and friends is pretty sweet,” said Durant, who also took home All-Star Game MVP honors in 2012.
Antetokounmpo scored a game-high 38 points on 17-of-23 shooting and drew raves from his peers, Durant included.
“He’s got potential through the roof. He’s still producing at an elite level, and it’s scary to see how far he can keep going,” Durant said. “His game is rounding into shape. He’s still getting better, but he’s leading top five, top three MVP candidates right now at 20. How old is he, 23? To be that young and already at the top of the class as one of the elites in the game, it’s a joy to watch his progression.”
Just before Durant’s closing stretch, James shook off 76ers forward Joel Embiid for a corner 3, and on the next trip, pounded home a one-handed slam on a lob from Irving that extended Team LeBron’s lead to 168-158.
As the teams traded long-distance daggers and mixed in the occasional lob off the glass, Durant connected on a pair of 3-pointers from the right side to give Team LeBron a 161-153 lead at the five-minute mark in the fourth as shots started to fall short and handles were less certain.
Stephen Curry brought the Spectrum Center to its feet at the final buzzer, catching the ball off a hard bounce from himself and throwing in a reverse jam. He did the same with a four-point play early in the fourth — knocking down a 3 from the right wing as Warriors teammate Klay Thompson of Team LeBron pushed him to the floor.
“Any possession I was going to touch the ball with him guarding me, I was going to shoot,” Curry said of facing Thompson. “I definitely sold the call. If I was going to hit any of the 23 shots I took, that was going to be it.”
All-Star teammate DeAngelo Russell added a 3 of his own, staking Team Giannis to a 148-142 lead with 8:54 left in the game.
76ers guard Ben Simmons gave Team LeBron the lead 132-131 with 36 seconds left in the third quarter, closing what had been a 95-82 deficit at halftime. Team Giannis led by 20 in the third.
Damian Lillard’s 25-footers on consecutive possessions pulled Team LeBron even at 127-all, but Russell Westbrook put Bradley Beal on skates on two straight trips for easy layups at the rim.
Thompson drained a 3 from the corner in front of the Team Giannis bench to pull Team LeBron to within 120-115 with 4:30 left in the third quarter, and Beal followed with a 3-pointer of his own off a turnover to cut the advantage to 120-118.
Played above the rim in spurts, the game threatened to become a full-fledged 3-point contest. The first half consisted of 81 3-point attempts — 29 successful — between the teams.
Antetokounmpo led all scorers with 20 in the first half. He was on a dunk-a-minute pace to start the game. In the opening seven minutes, he had 16 points to fuel Team Giannis to a 36-22 edge, while assisting on 3-pointers by Bucks teammate Khris Middleton on three of four possessions.
“Previously, my first and second All-Star, I think I was kind of nervous,” Antetokounmpo said. “This one I was a little bit more relaxed. I had my name on that MVP until the third quarter, and they got hot and took it away from me.”
Curry, the de facto player host because of his local roots, got on the board with 5:32 left in the first half and was 2 of 7 at halftime. He finished 6 of 23 from the field.
Honorary All-Stars Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade checked into the game with 58 seconds left in the first quarter. Nowitzki splashed a 3-pointer from the right wing on his first offensive possession, and drained another from the left wing on the subsequent possession, giving Team Giannis a 53-37 advantage entering the second quarter. He added a third at the 9-minute mark in the second quarter and scored nine points on 3-of-3 shooting in 3:58 in the opening half.
“Thank you to the commissioner and to the NBA for allowing us to be on this stage once again,” Nowitzki said on the court between the third and fourth quarters, as every player from both rosters surrounded the veterans.
Wade said, “We want to thank each and every last one of these players. The game is in great hands. … Thank you guys for this opportunity.”
James, who slammed home an off-the-glass alley-oop from Wade, was thrilled to share the court one last time with his former teammate as Wade hits the home stretch of his final NBA season.
“It meant everything,” James said. “…It’s been a bittersweet moment for me with him. The bitter part is obviously this is the last time being on the same floor together and playing the game we love so much, and obviously all the memories we have, both as competitors, as teammates, so on and so on.
“…And then the sweet part of it, seeing him be able to go off on his own terms, saying when he’s done and nobody forced him out or did anything of that nature. He’s able just to hang it up when he was ready to hang it up and be at peace with it all. So that’s real sweet of it.”
J. Cole was the star attraction and halftime performer at Spectrum Center, and team captain James led a locker room exodus to sneak back onto the court to watch the show.
Lillard, who has collaborated with rapper 2 Chains and said he “chopped it up with J. Cole” on Saturday, said he told the coaching staff he was going to go watch Cole’s set one way or the other.
“I was going no matter, what,” Lillard said.
–By Jeff Reynolds, Field Level Media