Bryant scored 27 points, moving past Jordan as the career scoring leader in the game. Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant had 36, and Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook finished with 21. “With all these great players on the floor, you never know what will happen,” Durant said. “Guys making big shots, and they cut it down to one. We were up 18.”
James and the East cut a 21-point deficit to one in the closing seconds, but weren’t able to move in front. James had 36 points and fellow Heat star Dwyane Wade finished with a triple-double.
Blake Griffin scored 22 points for the West, which rang up 89 points in the first half, setting an All-Star record. But he won the game with his defense, picking off James’ pass when the East had a chance to tie in the final seconds. “I can’t turn the ball over like that,” James said. “I let my team down, but overall it was a great weekend.”
Griffin then hit one free throw with 1.1 seconds left, and Wade was off on a 3-point attempt from the corner. He finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, joining Jordan and James as the only players with All-Star game triple-doubles.
Durant named MVP
With Durant named MVP, Bryant is tied for the All-Star record with his four. But he got a bigger mark in his 13th All-Star game. He broke Jordan’s record of 262 points on a dunk with 4:57 left in the third quarter and now has 271 for his career. He entered with 244 and passed Oscar Robertson (246 points) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (251) earlier in the game.
It nearly wasn’t enough, as the East’s comeback had the crowd filled with entertainers and athletes chanting for defense -- never a part of the All-Star game vocabulary -- in the final seconds.
With Bryant covering him, James hit two long 3-pointers in the final period, and the East had a chance when Bryant, with the crowd loudly booing, missed a free throw with 18 seconds left and the West up 151-149. “Just being a competitor,” James said. “They pretty much beat us up all game so we just wanted to make a game of it.”
But New Jersey’s Deron Williams was short on a 3-pointer, and after the East came up with it, James fired a pass into a crowd that Griffin intercepted. On a colorful night in Orlando, from pregame performer Nicki Minaj’s pink and green hair to the neon sneakers many of the stars wore, Dwight Howard had nine points and 10 rebounds as the game’s host.
The NBA’s first All-Star game in Orlando in 20 years wasn’t close after 2½ quarters. But players always say it gets competitive in the final five minutes, and James was again up for the challenge.
He hiked his scoring average to 25.9 points over his eight All-Star games, and someday he’ll probably take the record Bryant set Sunday. But he couldn’t quite catch Kobe in the game.
Finest arena in the league
With the 2-year-old Amway Center considered by many the finest arena in the league, the NBA brought its midseason showcase back to Orlando for the first time since the memorable 1992 game, when Magic Johnson was MVP three months after retiring from the league because of the HIV virus. This one was once in jeopardy of being lost when the lockout lasted into late November. Without a settlement then, All-Star weekend may have been wiped out, as it was in 1999 following a work stoppage. The party was saved.
James and Howard, wearing bright orange shoes, danced onto the stage for pregame introductions, Howard breaking into an enormous grin when fans gave him a thunderous ovation as the last All-Star introduced. He insists that he and Magic fans still have a love affair despite his trade request, understanding he still loves the city even if not his team, and urged everyone to ignore the trade talk for a weekend and have fun.
“We did it big for our city,” he said in brief pregame remarks to the crowd before the game. Then Andrew Bynum blocked his first shot attempt.
The speedy Westbrook had the East looking like it was standing still late in the first half, and it was 88-69 at the break. Howard and Derrick Rose ditched their orange sneakers in the second half -- James kept his -- and the East quickly got back into it, trimming 12 points off its deficit in less than 6 minutes. They even started to defend -- Wade whacked Bryant so hard on a drive that the Lakers star needed a break between free throws to wipe blood from his nose before sinking it to tie Jordan. Williams scored 20 points for the East, Carmelo Anthony had 19, and Rose finished with 14.