CHARLOTTE, N.C. — LeBron James sure knows how to draft in this NBA All-Star format.
Team LeBron had talent.
James, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and Dwyane Wade have combined for six MVPs, seven Finals MVPs and seven All-Star MVPs among them.
Throw in shooters Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson and Bradley Beal off the bench for even more scoring.
Team LeBron defeated Team Giannis 178-164 in Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game. Durant had a team-high 31 points and was named MVP, James and Leonard each had 19 and Lillard 18. Irving had 13 points, nine rebounds and six assists, and Thompson added 20 points.
“We just started making shots,” Durant said during a televised interview. “Our second group got us going and we took off from there. It doesn’t matter, all these players are great and we are mixing up the conferences, and there are so many great players in the league. Being out here among so much greatness. I appreciate it.”
It was the second consecutive year Team LeBron won the All-Star Game.
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Like just about every All-Star Game, a majority of the game was a glorified exhibition with easy dunks, open 3s and zero defense. But as tends to happen in this annual celebration of basketball, when the score narrowed by the fourth quarter, players were in to win.
Down the stretch, Team Giannis coach Mike Budenholzer and Team LeBron coach Mike Malone countered with these lineups: Kemba Walker, Steph Curry, Paul George, Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo on one side and Harden, Lillard, Irving, James and Durant on the other.
Trailing for a majority of the game, including 109-89 early in the third quarter, Team LeBron had a strong finish to the third. Team LeBron took a lead into the fourth quarter — its first lead since early in the first. The second unit led by Lillard, Thompson, Beal and Ben Simmons spurred the comeback.
“Honestly, I thought the key to the game was that second group that was out there,” Team LeBron coach Mike Malone said. “Those guys just played with tremendous pace, and we started making shots, and the game turned. The best part of that for me watching it was how excited the guys on the bench were.”
With Simmons passing and dunking and Lillard, Thompson and Beal making threes, the bench spilled onto the court with each basket that made the game closer.
Team LeBron pulled away down the stretch, outscoring Team Giannis 25-11 in the final 7:05. Durant, as is the case often, was impossible to defend with 11 points in the fourth quarter.
Team LeBron connected on 35 3-pointers, setting an All-Star record most most made 3s by one team.
For a minute, it was a Milwaukee Bucks All-Star show with Budenholzer and his staff on the bench. Antetokounmpo scored 16 points in the first quarter and 20 in the first half, and Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton made his first four 3-pointers and had 17 points in the first half. Antetokounmpo had a game-high 38 points and 11 rebounds.
“Previously, my first and second All-Star, I think I was kind of nervous,” Antetokounmpo said. “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. But at the end of the day, I had fun. My family had fun. It’s just a great experience.”
This All-Star Game had its sweet, sentimental moments, too. Dirk Nowitzki and Wade played in what is likely their final All-Star Game.
Nowitzki took it seriously. He warmed up pregame and on his first shot, he made a 3-pointer. And on his second, he made another 3-pointer. And on his third shot, another 3.
And, for old time’s sake, James threw an alley-oop to Wade, and later, Wade tossed the ball off the backboard for James to dunk.
Just want fans wanted to see.
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt