What a game.
Kobe had it going early, Lebron had it going late, and Durant iced the contest in the end. In between those guys doing what they do best, Amar’e threw down a dunk nearly any time he was within five feet of the hoop and was the East’s best big man for most of the evening.
The game started with our own #24 going to work on offense and showing that there is still some life in those 32 year old legs. Throwing down multiple dunks and getting good lift on his jumper, Kobe was in vintage form in the early going. It’s tough to choose a specific play to call my favorite, but his first dunk of the night where he went up and under the rim and threw it down with two hands was a highpoint for me. The play just showed so many facets of Kobe’s game…you had the great first step, the ability to tightrope the baseline, and then the spectacular finish all on a single play. The fact that we’ve rarely seen that explosiveness from him this year was just the icing on the cake. But it wasn’t just on offense that Kobe was doing major work. He had a game high 14 rebounds, added 3 assists and 3 steals to a very good line.
But while Kobe was human down the stretch, Lebron and Kevin Durant were not. The self proclaimed King saw a double digit deficit in the 2nd half and decided that he was not going to go down without a fight. He turned up his intensity on defense, started to rebound the ball, and then did what he did best by pushing the ball in the open court and bulling his way to the basket. Highlighted by a classic LeBron dunk where he brought the ball what seemed like two feet behind his head and explosively through the ball through the hoop with amazing power, James was a dominant player down the stretch either getting his own shot with ease or setting up a mate (usually Amar’e) for a good look at the rim. Lebron ended the night with a triple double, dropping 29 points to go along with 12 rebounds and 10 assists. If there was a more complete player on the floor for the entirety of the game I’m not sure who he was. And considering how well Kobe played, that’s really saying something.
As for Durant, what can you really say about the man that has clearly become the most dangerous scoring threat in the league. While he didn’t match Kobe’s game high 37, KD did drop 34 points of his own making 11 of his 23 FG’s, going 8-8 from the foul line and throwing in 4 three pointers. But it wasn’t just the fact that Durant was knocking down shots, it’s the fact that he hit the big shots down the stretch. When LeBron was nearly single handedly bringing the East back to within two points in the closing minutes, it was Durant nailing a pull up jumper from the top of the circle and then following that up with a three pointer for a one man 5 point run that essentially iced the game. Two straight daggers for Durant and that was that. Really, it was a sight to see him step up the way that he did and seize the moment. It really is tough to believe that he’s only in his 4th season.
Despite this being an All-Star game though, every game needs some role players “stepping up” in order to get the win. For the West team, those guys were easily Russ Westbrook, Deron Williams, and Pau Gasol. Westbrook was tremendous going to the basket all night and had one of the better moves going to the rim all night where he left his defender in his wake by crossing over from right to left and then throwing up a lefty scoop with english that he banked home. Russ ended the night with 12 points on 6-12 shooting and chipped in 5 rebounds as well. Williams, meanwhile, didn’t shoot the ball that well (2-7 FG’s) but did everything else well tying for the team high in assists with 7, playing pretty good D down the stretch, and just being a solid guard when the West needed some stability.
But it was Gasol’s under the radar performance that most helped secure the win when looking outside Kobe and Durant. Pau had 17 points (a high mark for points in all his ASG appearances) on 8-13 shooting and also grabbed 6 offensive boards, none bigger than a tip in off a Kobe miss with less than a minute left that pushed the West lead back to 4 and ultimately kept the East at arms length. His final two FT’s pushed the lead up to 6 and that pretty much ended the game.
In the end, though, the game was about Kobe showing that he’s still got something for the league by earning his 4th All-Star game MVP award and putting on a show for the hometown fans. It’s hard to put into words watching him continue to have something in reserve and defy what people think he should be. Just a tremendous effort from him. I feel quite grateful that I was here to witness it in person.