CHICAGO, FEBRUARY 17, 2020 (REUTERS) – Team LeBron called Kawhi Leonard’s number on the first possession of the game, a 3-pointer that touched only net.
The Los Angeles Clippers All-Star made his first four 3s, scored a game-high 30 points and took home the Kobe Bryant MVP Award on Sunday.
“It’s very special,” Leonard said. “I had a relationship with (Bryant). Words can’t explain how happy I am for it. … He means a lot to me. He’s a big inspiration in my life.”
Anthony Davis made a walk-off free throw and Team LeBron defeated Team Giannis in the 69th NBA All-Star Game on Sunday.
Davis, the Los Angeles Lakers’ big man and first pick in the All-Star draft, missed badly off the back iron before sinking the second for a 157-155 victory in the unique, hotly contested showcase.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks) had 25 in a losing effort for Team Giannis.
When the dust settled, Antetokounmpo said it was important to acknowledge what other players had said after the game: that they felt Bryant’s presence in the building.
“We definitely felt his presence. Growing up, watching Kobe in those games, I felt like he was always competitive, and he was kind of the one who got the game going,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think we kept that going tonight. I think he definitely would have loved to watch the way we went out there and competed tonight.
“Over the years, the All-Star Game has been a game where it just hasn’t been as competitive as probably the fans would like, but tonight it definitely was, and we got to keep that going.”
Neither team used a sub in the final quarter.
“We wouldn’t be All-Stars if we weren’t competitors,” LeBron James said. “We all compete at the highest level. Guys definitely had that sense of pride.”
Team Giannis coach Nick Nurse stuck with a lineup that included point guard Kyle Lowry in favor of Atlanta’s Trae Young, who had 10 assists in 15 minutes and might have helped penetrate what became a lockdown defense late in the game.
“Even first pass to start the offense was being denied,” Nurse said citing the elevated game intensity the closer teams got to 157.
The untimed fourth quarter was a race to a target final score — determined by adding 24 points to the score of the team leading after three quarters — as part of a tribute to Bryant. Team Giannis led 133-124 after three quarters, thus setting the target score at 157.
James gave Team LeBron a 156-153 lead. But on the ensuing Team LeBron possession, Chris Paul (Oklahoma City Thunder) opted for a 3 and missed. At the other end, Team Giannis closed the gap to 156-155 on two Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers) free throws.
James was denied an earlier basket that would have made the score 156-153 after a review showed Antetokounmpo cleanly blocked James’ layup initially called goaltending.
James Harden (Houston Rockets) made up for a missed set of free throws by making two and putting Team LeBron up 154-152.
Team LeBron mounted a comeback in the fiery final quarter that included Team Giannis’ Kyle Lowry taking two charges and an official challenge — overturning a foul call to a jump ball and change of possession — with the game tied at 152.
Harden made a 3 to tie the game at 146 and Davis brought it back to all square after Team Giannis got two free throws from Embiid.
A tightly contested third quarter tilted to Team LeBron with a Nikola Jokic 3-pointer. The Nuggets’ 7-footer knocked down his shot with 22.2 seconds left and, after a turnover, applied a full-court press resulting in a foul and a pair of free throws for Russell Westbrook (Houston Rockets). He made 1 of 2.
Young connected on a cross court lob with Rudy Gilbert (Utah Jazz), tying the quarter 41-all with 2.2 seconds left. Westbrook missed a shot at the buzzer.
Team Giannis led 92-83 at halftime, with Young splashing a half-court shot at the buzzer.
Antetokounmpo lit up the second quarter and brought hustle at both ends — not exactly an All-Star Game staple — putting up 14 points and five boards in the period. Team Giannis won the second quarter 51-30.
Leonard had 12 points on 4-of-4 3-point shooting when the first subs were made 6 minutes, eight seconds into the game. He had 25 points in the first half — seven 3s — to lead all scorers. Team LeBron dominated the first quarter, 53-41, thanks to 9-of-18 shooting from 3-point range.
James, making his 16th All-Star Game appearance, and every member of Team LeBron wore blue jerseys all with No. 2 on the back, and Team Giannis wore red No. 24 jerseys. The one-time gesture was a nod to Bryant, who wore No. 24, and his daughter Gianna, who preferred No. 2.
It was the first time since 2013 the All-Star Game was played without Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who is sidelined with a broken finger. Nets forward Kevin Durant, the 2019 All-Star Game MVP, was named an All-Star every year since 2010 before Sunday. He is sitting out the season recovering from a torn Achilles.
Each team represented a Chicagoland youth charity with the winning team netting $200,000 for their chosen organization, plus an extra $100,000 carried over from the third-quarter tie. The top-scoring team in each of the first three quarters was pegged to earn $100,000 for its charity.
Team Giannis represented After School Matters and Team LeBron played for Chicago Scholars.
–By Jeff Reynolds, Field Level Media
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