For three-and-a-half quarters the NBA All-Star game was more like the Oscars. Then with 6:51 to play in a one-point game the starters came back and started playing hard defense to end the highlight reel. In particular, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James started jawing as the West took a 134-126 lead. And then Bryant took Michael Jordan’s advice to always make LeBron go left because he pulls up for a jumper as opposed to overpowering you by going right. LeBron went up, and Kobe rejected him hard starting a fast break dunk to Durant. With 42 seconds left, Kobe did the same thing again, rejecting LeBron for a second time.
The West won their fourth in five years by a 143-138 margin, but Kobe’s two rejections were the key to the game in a week in which Jordan said he would take Kobe over LeBron because “five is better than one” championship.
The fact that Jordan went public with his scouting report on LeBron, who has been virtually unstoppable for seven games, coupled with the report that the then 49-year-old Jordan recently beat the 19-year-old rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist one-on-one in a game shows that Jordan is as competitive on this his 50th birthday when he is not playing as he was in his playing days.
Bryant is the player most similar to Jordan as an dominant shooting guard, while LeBron is really the closest to Magic Johnson, a player who can play all five positions.
Chris Paul kept the West ahead throughout the game as the third All-Star to ever record 20 points and 15 assists (Magic Johnson and Isaiah Thomas) to take the MVP award.
Carmelo Anthony scored 26 and LeBron’s teammate Dwyane Wade scored 21 points to keep the East close, but it was Paul who weaved through the defense even when it did get intense down the stretch.
Kevin Durant became the only player to ever score 30 in three straight All-Star games except for Bryant. But while Bryant left the scoring to the younger stars, he knew his mission and accomplished it. James had scored 20 points in a record six straight All-Star games and Bryant’s two rejections denied him a seventh straight by sticking him at 19 points.
After his first rejection started the fast break dunk, he actually threw his second rejection off of James and out-of-bounds, though the ref missed the call and gave it to the East.
Forget the box score – the winner tonight was Bryant – and Jordan.