The NBA fulfilled its obligations to its broadcast partners and banked plenty of ancillary revenue, which really was the purpose of the 2021 All-Star Game on Sunday night at State Farm Arena in Atlanta in the midst of a global pandemic when the majority of players favored taking time off in the midst of a condensed 72-game season.
For whatever it was worth, Team LeBron James won three of four quarters and defeated Team Kevin Durant, 170-150, and Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo was named MVP after scoring 35 points on epic 16-for-16 shooting.
Team James had a 22-point advantage through three periods before adding 24 points (representing the jersey number of the late Kobe Bryant) to set the fourth-quarter target score of 170. Team Durant needed at least a 46-23 win in the final period and didn’t come closer than 17 points as Team James ended the untimed fourth period with three straight three-pointers by Damian Lillard.
Lillard was the second-leading scorer for Team James with 32 points, including 8-for-16 three-point shooting. Stephen Curry matched Lillard from three-point range, scoring 28 points, and Jaylen Brown added 22. Team James shot 63.6% overall and hit 31 of 61 three-point attempts.
Bradley Beal had 26 points, Kyrie Irving 24 and James Harden 21 for Team Durant. Irving added 12 assists. First-time Knicks All-Star Julius Randle scored four points on 2-for-2 shooting but played only 13 minutes.
The NBA forged ahead with a drastically scaled-back All-Star Game just four days short of the one-year anniversary of the league-wide shutdown that occurred March 11, 2020, when Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the cancellation of that night’s game against the Thunder in Oklahoma City.
Commissioner Adam Silver admitted that the All-Star Game was played for financial reasons.
76ers All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were ruled out because of contact tracing protocols that showed both were exposed to a barber who tested positive. "I hate the fact Joel and Ben will not be able to play today," James said.
Recalling the wild events of the past year, James said news of the Gobert infection and subsequent league pause prompted uncertainty.
"You didn’t really know what to think," he said. "It was the first time it’s ever happened in any one of our major sports leagues, so you knew at that point it would trickle down to everyone else. You were wishing for the best, but you kind of knew the inevitable was going to happen."
The Nets had a franchise-record three All-Stars, but Durant, who is recovering from a hamstring strain, was not there even though he was a team captain. Irving started for Team Durant and Harden was the top reserve.
"We don’t want to take that for granted, three guys on one team being All-Stars," Irving said. "Obviously, with KD not being here, it felt a little incomplete, but we need him to get healthy for the second half of the season and what really matters."
Harden made it clear he preferred to take time off. "In general, this All-Star Game is kind of forced, just thrown upon us," he said. "I feel like we basically have a game every other day in the regular season. You finally get an opportunity to have close to a week off and . . . then you just have this one-day event, which is pretty tough."
The All-Star Game is played under a different format in which the first three quarters are viewed separately. Team James eked out a 40-39 win in the opening quarter as Curry scored 12 points.
In the second quarter, Team James took control with a 21-2 run fueled by eight points from Lillard and won the period, 60-41.
Team Durant was up seven in the third quarter when Team James responded with a 29-15 run that included a banked three-pointer by Antetokounmpo to give him 16-for-16 shooting.
Team James went to the final period leading 146-125 and set the target score for the fourth quarter at 170.