NEW ORLEANS — The moment everyone was waiting for came in the first quarter when Western Conference coach Steve Kerr put Russell Westbrook in and didn’t remove Kevin Durant. Worlds collided.
The two former teammates hadn’t spoken, shaken hands or exchanged anything but some glares since Durant left Westbrook and Oklahoma City in search of a championship with Golden State. But they hooked up on a Westbrook-to-Durant-to-Westbrook lob dunk during Sunday night’s All-Star Game that led to hilarious reactions from the West bench.
During a timeout moments later, the rest of the West players cheered and jumped up and down when Westbrook and Durant got to the bench. Steph Curry threw water on the two of them and some ice went flying, according to Kerr. That was fitting, given that it was the proverbial breaking of the ice. Tension lifted — a little.
The two played only 1:21 together and worked together for only that basket on a night when 162 of them were scored. The West wound up with a record-setting 192-182 shootout win, thanks to a record 52-point night from New Orleans big man Anthony Davis, who earned All-Star Game MVP honors.
“With all the talk that went into the game, that’s kind of the beauty of the game,” Kerr said of the Durant-Westbrook dynamic. “You just let the game break the ice. That play broke the ice. Our guys were all making fun of them and they were laughing. It was a nice moment.”
Davis joked that it was “a defining moment in history.” The host city’s star sure made history. He broke Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star Game mark of 42 points set in 1962, shot 26-for-39 and had 10 rebounds.
The 374 points were the most scored in an All-Star Game, surpassing last year’s record of 369.
Westbrook scored 41 in 20 minutes. Durant had 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Eastern Conference with 28. LeBron James scored 23 in his 13th appearance and became the first player to amass 300 points in the All-Star Game. Carmelo Anthony, an injury replacement for Kevin Love, had 10 points off the bench.
When he was told afterward by a reporter that trade talks involving him seem to be cooling as Thursday’s deadline approaches, Anthony said, “Leave it like that.”
If Westbrook and Durant can find peace, maybe there’s hope for Anthony and Phil Jackson, and for Charles Oakley and James Dolan.
Seemingly the only thing talked about as much this weekend as the Knicks’ relationship issues was how Durant and Westbrook would coexist as teammates again. Neither was willing to talk about it, and neither said much about their shared basket.
“It was a good play,” Durant said. “Good catch. Good finish.”
“He threw a lob,’’ said Westbrook, a leading MVP candidate who has 27 triple-doubles and is averaging one for the season. “That’s all that happened. Just threw a lob. It’s basketball. That’s it.”
During Friday’s All-Star Media Day, when he was asked about playing with Westbrook again, Durant said only that he was “excited” about being there. Westbrook, meanwhile, deflected every question about Durant by talking about Fashion Week.
James Harden, a Thunder teammate of both Durant and Westbrook before being traded to the Rockets after the 2011-12 season, wanted no part of the situation. “They’re two grown men,” he said. “They have to figure it out themselves.”
Westbrook said the only thing he cares about is his current team and teammates in Oklahoma City.
“I’m in a great place,” he said. “I’m happy. I’m having fun. I’m having a great time. I’m happy with my team I have now and looking forward to moving forward.”
NBA All-Star Weekend and the game itself provide a very relaxed environment for the players, so the setting was right for a little thaw in the frozen relationship between Durant and Westbrook. Both teams want to win, but it doesn’t have the competitiveness and intensity of a regular-season game, and certainly not a playoff game. There surely is no defense being played.
The West led 97-92 at halftime. It was a record for most first-half points combined, breaking the mark of 182 set last year. The West’s 97 points also broke its own record of 92 from last year.
Davis scored 22 points in less than 14 minutes and Westbrook had 19 in a little more than 10.
The third quarter started fast and furiously, with both sides exchanging dunks and three-pointers. During one stretch of breakneck basketball, Curry just laid down on the court to steer clear of Antetokounmpo’s dunk.
When Westbrook entered the game in the third, it was for Durant, who watched his old teammate go off again. Westbrook scored nine points in the last 46.5 seconds of the quarter as the West took a 144-139 lead. He connected on three straight three-pointers, waving both hands by his face after the third one because he was so hot.