LOS ANGELES — LeBron James did it all.
He hit the go-ahead bucket, assisted on Russell Westbrook’s basket and then played smothering defense on Stephen Curry in the final seconds of the game. The result was one of the most entertaining All-Star Games in recent memory as Team LeBron defeated Team Stephen, 148-145, at the Staples Center on Sunday.
James won his third All-Star MVP award, finishing with 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. He just missed what would have been his second career triple-double in an All-Star Game and the fifth in history.
The most unbelievable part of his performance and the game itself was the fact that it was decided on a defensive stop. For years, fans have complained about the lack of defense in the game, but no one can complain about the defensive effort put forth by James and teammate Kevin Durant at the end of this revamped game.
With Stephen Curry, the captain of his team and the best outside shooter in the game, looking to tie the score with a three-pointer, the two smothered him in the corner and he could not get off a shot. “We got stops when we needed to,” Westbrook said. “We wanted to win, man. We wanted to win.”
Curry finished with 11 points after shooting 1-for-9 in the first half. DeMar DeRozan led Team Stephen with 21 points.
After years of complaints that the lack of defense had rendered the All-Star Game unwatchable, the NBA decided to change the format after last year’s game. The morning after the West’s 192-182 “victory” over the East in New Orleans, Chris Paul, the president of the NBA Players Association, texted NBA commissioner Adam Silver and told him, “We have to fix this.”
Silver, who had just watched a game in which West MVP Anthony Davis scored half of his 52 points on uncontested dunks, was thrilled that the players also were concerned. Silver put Paul together with Michael Jordan, who is the chairman of the league’s labor relations committee, and they came up with the new format in which James and Curry — the top two vote-getters from each conference — got to pick their teams from a pool of players regardless of conference.
“We’ll see how successful it is, but I think it’s already met with a fair amount of enthusiasm from, of course, our team captains who then went about picking teams,” Silver said. “Again, it’s something new we’re trying, but there’s been a fair amount of chatter about it on social media as well, and the players seem to have embraced it.”
The thinking in making the change, of course, is that players would be more motivated to play for a team that had picked them rather than a conference they happen to play in. The draft was not televised, though Silver and Curry said it’s something that could happen in the future, depending on how this format goes.
The drafting did end up with some notable teammates, especially on Team LeBron. James drafted Kyrie Irving, his former teammate in Cleveland, with whom he had a rather messy separation. James also drafted Durant and Westbrook, who went through an ugly breakup in Oklahoma City.
Curry said after Saturday’s practice that he felt good about the increased level of intensity he saw from his teammates heading into this game.
“Obviously, with the new format, I think it just adds a little different vibe around the All-Star Game,” he said. “Should be a little more competitive, a little more intense on the court tomorrow. And there is a lot at stake from a pride standpoint. It’s not just the Western Conference or Eastern Conference anymore. It’s Team Steph versus Team LeBron. So I obviously want to win.”