TORONTO — More than a celebration of the NBA, this year’s All-Star Game was a celebration of Kobe Bryant — there were two Kobe tribute videos and two standing ovations before the All-Star game even tipped off Sunday. Kobe soaked it all in, spoke graciously, clearly enjoyed his time on the court, and left it with a minute to go to chants of “Ko-be, Ko-be.”
“I think it’s the stories of when they first came into the league, and they were matching up against me, and just kind of the little things that — an elbow here or a steal here, and then wanting to earn my respect at an early age, right?” Kobe said of what he will take away from the weekend. “Coming into the league, playing against me, wanting to prove to me that they were as competitive. When I hear those kind of stories, man, that makes me feel real good.”
In between those Kobe bookends, it was a defense-free game — even by All-Star Game standards — that the West went on to win 196-173. The teams combined to take 139 threes. That’s not a typo, 139. The teams combined to shoot 55 percent.
Usually there is a defensive push in the fourth as the teams try to win, but with the West comfortably in front the only defense was from the West trying to keep Paul George, who scored 41 and was one-point short of Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time All-Star record. George impressed in his return to All-Star competition.
“To come back and play at that level athletically, it just stuns me every time I see him out there,” Gregg Popovich said of George, thinking back on George’s nasty injury for Team USA a couple season’s ago.
Russell Westbrook won a back-to-back All-Star Game MVP, scoring 31 points, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out five assists. He’s the first back-to-back winner of the MVP since Bob Pettit in 1958-59.
The game’s trends started in the first half, where the teams took the usually low bar for defense in an All-Star Game to a new low. At halftime the score was 92-90 with the West ahead — an All-Star record for most total points in the first half, beating the old record by 17 points — and the teams combined to shoot 57.3 percent in the half. George led all scorers with 16 in the first half, Kawhi Leonard led the West with 13.
The second half started with Stephen Curry taking ridiculously deep threes — which might happen in a regular game. Then Russell Westbrook started launching threes (he took 17 in the games). Soon everyone was — DeMarcus Cousins even drained a three on a play Popovich said Cousins designed for himself.
Through it all the West expanded their lead to nine entering the fourth. Starting the fourth they quickly grew that lead, and with that the game became about records.
That included LeBron James (13 points) passing Kobe for the all-time lead in All-Star Game points scored (LeBron has 281, Kobe 280).