Sunday’s 2012 NBA All-Star Game at Amway Center featured plenty of highlights, but nothing compared to the finish or to the performance of Kevin Durant.
The Western Conference held off a late Eastern Conference rally to win 152-149 and help Durant capture the game’s Most Valuable Player award for the first time.
“It’s just exciting to be named an All-Star, but to step it up another level and become MVP, it’s only something that as a kid you dream about,” Durant said. “Coming from where I come from, I didn’t think I would be here.”
Durant proved he belonged, just as he has throughout his young pro career.
He scored 36 points on 14-of-25 shooting, collected seven rebounds and dished out three assists in one of the highest-scoring All-Star Games in league history.
LeBron James also scored 36 points, and he helped spark the East’s late comeback.
He definitely had a more productive game than the host player, Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard.
Howard, who received loud applause from the announced sellout crowd of 17,125 during the pregame introductions, finished with nine points and 10 rebounds. In a measure of how the All-Star Game is an exhibition meant to entertain and not a real game, Howard attempted four 3-pointers and made none of them.
Howard had no complaints about his relative lack of shot attempts during his postgame press conference with reporters. Instead, he emphasized how he felt Orlando had been “on fire” during the weekend, that “it felt like the Finals again” and that the past few days “were great for our city.”
He declined to discuss his long-term plans.
The West led by 21 points early in the third quarter and by 12 to begin the fourth.
But the East cut its deficit to 150-149 on a pair of free throws by Dwyane Wade with 22.8 seconds left.
Bryant was fouled with 16.3 seconds remaining, and when he went to the foul line, Paul Pierce chided him from the East bench.
“He missed two the other night in Dallas!” Pierce yelled.
Bryant hit the first foul shot but missed the second to extend the lead to 151-149.
The East could not take advantage of its opportunities.
Deron Williams missed a potential game-winning 3-point try with 8.9 seconds remaining.
And, after Griffin made one of two free throws with 1.1 seconds left, Wade missed a potential game-tying 3 as time expired.
“Being a competitor, no matter All-Star Game or not, you don’t want to get blown out,” James said.
The competitive ending completed a night that featured the typical pageantry for an All-Star Game:
• Howard began the evening by wearing neon orange adidas sneakers, and he and three of his fellow East starters — Carmelo Anthony, James and Wade — danced on a stage during the pregame festivities as Nicki Minaj’s music blared over the sound system.
• The league marked the 20th anniversary of Magic Johnson winning the All-Star Game MVP award in Orlando shortly after he diagnosed with the HIV virus; the league also honored Johnson and four other members of the original Dream Team.
• Plenty of celebrities and basketball dignitaries showed up, including Rev. Jesse Jackson, New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, Boston Celtics great Bill Russell and actor and director Spike Lee.
Still, it was Howard who provided one of the more dramatic moments.
During a TV timeout with 1:40 to go in the first quarter, he walked to the baseline seats near the East bench and sat down next to DeVos, the Magic’s 85-year-old owner.
Howard put his arm around DeVos.
One of DeVos’ sons, Magic Chairman Dan DeVos, stood up, held a point-and-shoot camera and snapped a photo.
The moment encouraged the elder DeVos that Howard will decide to remain with the team long-term.
“That was something!” Rich DeVos marveled after he left his seat in the second quarter. “It makes me feel even better now.”
So, why did Howard do that?
“It was an open seat,” Howard said after the game, pausing for a second to chuckle.
“And I wanted to say hello. I can’t speak to my [team’s] owner? . . . We have a good relationship, so I decided to speak to him. He’s a great guy. We talk a lot, so I wanted to sit down and talk to him.”
Early in the third quarter, Bryant faced-up to the basket with Howard guarding him. Howard started talking to Bryant and dared Bryant to try and drive to the hoop. Bryant did try and he picked up a personal foul on Howard.
Bryant made history a short while later. With 4:56 remaining in the third quarter, Bryant slammed home a two-handed dunk on a fastbreak for the 263rd and 264th points of his All-Star Game career, breaking Michael Jordan’s career record of 262 points.
The night, however, belonged to Durant.
“Once I grow old,” he said, “I can tell my kids that I got an All-Star Game trophy.”
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