Kevin Durant wins 2012 All-Star MVP, West beats East 152-149

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The 2012 NBA All-Star game started off as a blowout, but ended up being competitive to the final possession. Kevin Durant and LeBron James tied for the game-high in scoring with 36 points each, but Durant got the MVP nod as his West squad held on to win in exciting fashion, 152-149.

Durant started off hot with 13 first-quarter points, with his Thunder head coach Scott Brooks playing him the entire period as he does in his regular rotation in games that count. He had 21 by halftime and 34 after three, and finished 14-of-25 from the field with seven rebounds and three assists.

“It’s just exciting to be named to All-Star, but to step it up to another level and become MVP, it’s only something that as a kid you dream about,” Durant said afterward.

Durant played a game-high 17 minutes, which he said he knew was coming, as he and his coach had been discussing it for the past couple of weeks. He knew early on he had a shot at the trophy.

“After the first quarter,” Durant said, when asked when he thought the MVP might be within reach. “You know, I had a rhythm going. Guys were feeding me. I hit a few shots, and I was being aggressive. We had a good lead, as well. I had an idea that I can get the award, but with so many great players on the floor, you never know what can happen. But I’m glad I’m taking it home.”

Durant was deserving of the MVP, but he was quiet in the fourth quarter with just two points on two shots. Maybe that’s why the East was able to close the gap.

The West led by 19 points at halftime, and set an All-Star game record for most points in the process. Things changed in the third quarter, and Dwyane Wade let it be known that the East was going to compete. He took an unusually hard foul on Kobe Bryant, smacking Bryant in the nose and actually drawing blood — something which may have been a first in the mid-season exhibition.

“I obviously didn’t try to draw no blood, but I took a foul,” Wade said afterward. “Kobe fouled me two times in a row, so he’s still got one up on me. But I’m glad that everything was cool and we got back to being competitive and having fun.”

Most of the rest of the game from that point was fun only for the East, and especially Wade’s Miami Heat teammate, LeBron James. While Wade finished with a rare All-Star game triple-double of 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists, James got hot from three-point distance, knocking down five out of six from downtown in the second half to bring the East roaring all the way back to within two points with 16.3 seconds remaining.

Deron Williams had a shot to win it, popping out to the three-point line for a clean look that just didn’t fall. The East had one more chance after Williams secured his own rebound, but James turned it over, trying to find a teammate in the paint while Kobe Bryant was defending. He said afterward that Bryant gave him a hard time for not stepping up to take that final shot.

“Yeah, he was telling me to shoot it,” James said. “I seen my teammate open for a split second, I told him I seen him open the first time and I didn’t release the ball. When I tried to throw it late, that’s what usually happens and it results in a turnover. Definitely wish I could have that one back.”

Bryant started off the game by making his first four shots, and finished by doing what he does: forcing tough, contested fadeaway jump shots with defenders in his face and the game on the line. Bryant finished second to Durant on his team in scoring with 27 points, and with a breakaway two-handed slam dunk in the third, passed Michael Jordan in the record books to become the All-Star game’s all-time leading scorer.

The game featured its fair share of sensational plays from just about everyone who was interested — Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, and several others. Noticeably absent from the highlight reel was Orlando’s Dwight Howard, who appeared disinterested and was going at it in a lower gear than everyone else for most of the night. (Need proof? Look no further than his zero-of-four shooting … from three-point land.)

Overall, the game delivered. The exciting plays were there, as were the intensity and competition the players displayed in taking the outcome down to the night’s final possession.

And there was Kevin Durant, taking home his first All-Star game MVP.

“I keep saying it, but I’m excited I got it, and I’m glad I get to celebrate this with my family and my teammates and everyone in Oklahoma City,” he said. “We’ll see if I get another one down the line.”

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.

Raptors’ ‘culture reset’ shines in Game 5 win over Wizards

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The Raptors promoted ball movement. They emphasized 3-point shooting. They empowered their reserves.

This was why.

Backups Delon Wright and C.J. Miles and starting center Jonas Valanciunas – who was benched in previous postseasons due to his old-fashioned style, but expanded his game beyond the arc this year – scored Toronto’s final 18 points in a 108-98 Game 5 win over the Wizards on Wednesday. Stars DeMar DeRozan (0-for-4 from the field) and Kyle Lowry (0-for-1 from the field, 0-for-2 on free throws) struggled down the stretch, as the Raptors burst open what had been a one-point lead.

Though DeRozan (32 points) and Lowry (17 points and 10 assists) were good overall, they succumbed late in previous playoff games. Toronto didn’t want that duo stuck with the burden of creating so much in a stagnate offense.

Hence, Masai Ujiri’s famous “culture reset.”

The results have been mixed so far against a tougher-than-average-eight-seed Washington. But at least the Raptors – up 3-2 entering Friday’s Game 6 in Washington – are on the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

Raptors honor victims of van attack before Game 5 (photos)

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TORONTO (AP) — The Toronto Raptors honored the victims the deadly van attack Monday with a moment of silence Wednesday night before Game 5 of their playoff series against the Washington Wizards.

Players from both teams held up banners with the hashtag #TORONTOSTRONG as they stood on the court during the tribute and the national anthems that followed:

The Raptors, the Wizards and the NBA will make a donation to a fund for victims and those affected by the incident.

Raptors President Masai Ujiri spoke about the attack after the Raptors practiced Tuesday.

“What we do doesn’t really matter sometimes,” Ujiri said. “I can’t imagine what it would be like to be on that sidewalk.”

Guard Kyle Lowry said he was impressed by the actions of Const. Ken Lam, who earned international acclaim for peacefully arresting of suspect Alek Minassian.

“In America he would definitely have been shot up,” Lowry said. “He did an amazing job of making a judgment call. I think more people could learn from that.”

Coach Dwane Casey was struck by how close the carnage occurred to his own Toronto neighborhood,

“It’s not too far from up the street from where I live,” Casey said.

Casey and his coaches were in the midst of a meeting Monday afternoon when assistant Rex Kalamian’s phone buzzed with someone informing him of the tragedy. The coaches stopped their meeting and turned on a television to find out what had happened.

“It’s very unfortunate,” Casey said. “Just this weekend I was talking to people saying how safe Toronto is, how it’s a melting pot and you don’t have the same crime. Hopefully though, sport can offer a relief, some reprieve.”

Like Casey, Ujiri said he is proud of Toronto’s reputation as a safe, welcoming place.

“Everywhere I go, I brag about this city,” Ujiri said. “It’s the safest place in the world. It’s the best city in the world and it’s going to continue to be the best place and the best city in the world.”

Toronto police said the 10 people killed and 14 injured in the attack were “predominantly” women, but have declined so far to discuss a motive. The 25-year-old Minassian has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder.