Los Angeles: Kevin Durant scored 31 points and picked up the MVP award as Team LeBron rallied from a 20-point deficit to outgun Team Giannis 178-164 in the 2019 NBA All-Star Game on Sunday.
Durant, who also won the MVP award in 2012, got his team untracked in the second half in a game that at one stage threatened to turn into an overblown three-point shooting contest.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, one of the two captains along with LeBron James, led all scorers with 38 points as his hand-picked squad scored a record-equaling 53 points in the first quarter and led 95-82 at halftime.
“Previously, my first and second all-star, I think I was kind of nervous,” said Antetokounmpo, who has led the Milwaukee Bucks to the NBA’s best record and is an MVP frontrunner this season.
“This one I was a little bit more relaxed. I had my name on that MVP until the third quarter, and they got hot and took it away from me.”
Defense went out the window especially in the first half, but when it was time to get competitive in the fourth quarter the all-stars buckled down in front of a sold-out crowd of 19,070 at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Team LeBron wouldn’t be denied, coming back from a 20-point third quarter deficit with the help of 20 points from Klay Thompson and 19 from Kawhi Leonard.
Team LeBron also set a record with a total of 91 three point attempts. The teams combined for 81 three point attempts in the first half alone.
“They were scoring too easy,” said Team LeBron player Damian Lillard, who finished with 18 points. “I know it is the All-Star Game but we had to make them work a bit more.
“In this kind of game you can erase those leads quick.”
Paul George and Khris Middleton each scored 20 points for Team Giannis, which got 17 apiece from Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook in the loss.
Durant said he was honored to be part of the festivities.
“To be out here amongst so much greatness, I really appreciate it,” Durant said.
Charlotte Hornets’ Kemba Walker got one of the loudest cheers of the evening and finished with four points for Team Giannis.
James Harden of the Houston Rockets, the NBA scoring leader and last year’s league MVP, had 12 points for Team LeBron.
Disgrunted Anthony Davis, who has asked the New Orleans Pelicans to trade him, played just four minutes and had five points for Team LeBron.
Honorary all-stars Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade played a combined 13 minutes and scored nine and seven points respectively.
The pair were invited to the game by Commissioner Adam Silver to commemorate their brilliant NBA careers.
Wade, an American playing for the Miami Heat, is retiring after 16 seasons and Germany’s Nowitzki has played 21 seasons, all with the Dallas Mavericks.
Nowitzki was a perfect three-for-three from beyond the arc in his minuscule three minutes of playing time.
“Thank you to the commissioner and to the NBA for allowing us to be on this stage once again,” Nowitzki said during a mid-court ceremony before the start of the final quarter.