- Team LeBron mounted a second-half comeback to defeat Team Giannis, 178-164. Kevin Durant was the game's MVP as the power of the NBA's new draft format shined once again.
CHARLOTTE — The 2019 NBA All-Star Game is in the books, and Team LeBron prevailed in a back-and-forth contest that began with a sleepy first half and became a lot more down the stretch Sunday night. The victorious squad was led by Kevin Durant, who was named All-Star MVP and finished with 31 points and seven rebounds on 10-of-15 shooting. Fellow Warrior Klay Thompson added 20 points for Team LeBron, while Kawhi Leonard and team captain LeBron James each finished with 19 points.
For Team Giannis, captain Giannis Antetokounmpo had 38 points on 17-of-23 shooting, while his Milwaukee teammate Khris Middleton added 20 points. Steph Curry, playing in his hometown, finished with 17 points on 6-of-23 shooting. Here are our takeaways from the 68th NBA All-Star Game.
1. Another win for the draft format
For most of the first two quarters the game was a double-digit blowout, and for a minute there, it looked like we were watching a letdown after a draft format successfully brought some energy back to the festivities last year. By the end of the third quarter, however, Team LeBron had fought back from a 13-point deficit and taken a one-point lead. Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson powered the comeback, while Russell Westbrook's flurry of misses helped the cause. (By the end of the third, Westbrook's plus-minus was -19).
The fourth quarter was back-and-forth the entire way, with both teams playing hard and one-upping each other on every possession. For the second year in a row the game was fun, close, and entertaining down the stretch. I don't want to jinx anything, but for at least two years, the NBA has found a way to make this game work.
2. Durant wins MVP
His 13 first-half points helped keep the game from getting too far out of reach as Team Giannis fast-breaked its way to a big lead, and after Lillard and Thompson closed the gap at the end of the third, Durant helped finish the job at the end.
The award was Durant's second All-Star MVP. Some of his teammates had more memorable plays—including LeBron, who rebounded from a sleepy first half and brought the house down with a three over Embiid and a dunk in the fourth quarter—but KD's numbers were hyper efficient and lethal, and ultimately too much for the other team to handle. In other words, it was like a lot of Warriors games over the past few years.
3. Giannis was playing chess
It's probably dumb to read too much into anyone's "strategy" when it comes to the All-Star Game draft. However... Giannis did explain his approach to ESPN before making his picks for 2019. As he said on Feb. 5, "I am going to try to make a team that is going to play hard. I think I am going to go with the young players."
And that almost worked! Team Giannis had significantly less firepower, but by going with young guys and first-timers, Giannis found a team full of players who were excited to be there. They were able to blitz Team LeBron from the start and build a lead that was as big as 20 points at one point in the first half. I don't even care that the strategy wasn't enough to win in the end. All that matters is that we all had 90 minutes or so when it looked like Giannis was the Jerry West of All-Star Game general managers.
Sidenote: Team LeBron dominated in at least one department. Every time the camera panned to a celebrities courtside, they were holding up a "Team Giannis" or "Team LeBron" shirt. A unofficial accounting had at least six celebrities holding up a "Team LeBron" shirt and only one repping "Team Giannis." Shoutout to J.B. Smoove's wife.
4. Charlotte's starpower wasn't the same
On the ground, navigating downtown Charlotte was 10 times more convenient than Los Angeles was a year ago. In that respect, Charlotte was a good host city. But All-Star Weekend is about the stars and spectacle, and while this is obviously an unfair fight, Charlotte was no match for L.A. in those departments.
In the arena Sunday night, the first three celebrities shown on screen were Ludacris, Guy Fieri, and Fat Joe. Later in the first half there was Janelle Monae and JB Smoove. Combine the lack of A-listers with Sunday weather that was rainy and in the low 40s, and the courtside turnout was a nice metaphor for the weekend.
This is a good time to note that if weather, stars, and convenience are the three factors that make a great host city, the NBA All-Star Game should be held in New Orleans every year.
5. Anthony Davis played just five minutes
He tested his shoulder injury before the game and decided to play, but he only saw the floor for five minutes, finishing with five points, on 2-of-2 shooting. This performance is the latest twist in an ongoing story that promises to feature at least 250 more updates and absurd news briefs before July 1.
6. The world needs more 14-foot alley-oops
Whatever happens next year, we need at least six minutes of throwing Giannis alley-oops that get progressively higher and more absurd.
7. From one Jordan landmark to another
Next year's All-Star weekend will be in Chicago, which means that everyone will be much colder, but the scale will be bigger. Can Giannis steal the MVP next year? Can someone dunk over Chance the Rapper on Saturday night? Will the Bulls have more than 20 wins by the All-Star break? Until next year...