CHARLOTTE, N.C. — If only LeBron James could have this kind of team on the Lakers.
James hasn’t been able to get the Lakers to win on a consistent basis this season, but his team of superstars was able to raise the level of play when needed Sunday night, rallying from a 20-point deficit to beat Giannis Antetokounmpo’s team, 178-164, in the All-Star Game at the Spectrum Center.
Kevin Durant, the first player drafted by Team LeBron, scored 31 points and shot 6-for-9 from three-point range. Durant, the MVP of the 2018 NBA Finals and the most coveted pending free agent, was named the game’s MVP.
“It’s cool to be out there with some of the best players ever to play the game and win the MVP here,” said Durant, who also was named the MVP in 2012. “I just keep trying to rack them up, I guess.”
Durant joins James and Russell Westbrook as the only active players to have earned All-Star MVP honors more than one time.
The comeback ruined a strong bid by Antetokounmpo to win his first MVP. He led all scorers with 38 points and added 11 rebounds and five assists, though he was helped quite a bit by the fact that Team LeBron didn’t really play defense until the second half, when James himself took over much of the defensive duties.
“I had my name on that MVP until the third quarter, and then they got hot and took it away from me,” Antetokounmpo said.
A record 62 three-pointers were made (in 167 attempts) in the game, which didn’t get serious until the third quarter, when Team LeBron went on a 19-2 run. James’ team outscored Team Giannis 50-36 in the third quarter and 96-69 in the second half after allowing 95 points in the first half.
Klay Thompson scored 20 points off the bench for Team LeBron. James and Kawhi Leonard each added 19.
Paul George and Khris Middleton each scored 20 points for Team Giannis.
Antetokounmpo dominated the first half, scoring 20 points and landing dunk after dunk. He even tried to dunk a free throw in the first quarter, throwing it off the backboard. (He was called for a violation.)
His most highlight-worthy dunk came early in the second quarter when Stephen Curry rewarded his team captain for making him the first pick. Coming down on the fast break, Curry slammed the ball into the ground and sent it way above the backboard, where Antetokounmpo snatched it out of the air and slammed it home.
Dirk Nowitzki, one of the feel-good story lines of All-Star Weekend, drew huge cheers when he was inserted into the game near the end of the first quarter.
Nowitzki, who once was selected to 11 straight All-Star Games, is presumed to be in the final year of his 21-year career. NBA commissioner Adam Silver named Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade, who has announced his retirement at the end of this season, to the All-Star rosters as special additions in honor of their lifetime contributions.
The Nets’ D’Angelo Russell had been labeled a Lakers draft bust, but on Sunday night, he took the court for Team Giannis in what he hopes is the first of many trips to All-Star Weekend.
“Enjoying every bit of it,” Russell said. “Soaking all this in like a kid in a candy shop.”
Russell scored six points in 12 minutes, including a three-pointer in the fourth quarter.