No matter what’s ailed the Lakers this season, no matter how many losses they have suffered to lackluster teams (Good night, Cleveland!), something actually went right for them in the All-Star game.
Kobe Bryant won his fourth All-Star MVP award, scoring 37 points and pushing the Western Conference past the East, 148-143, on Sunday at Staples Center.
It could have easily been a weekend for the young ones, a chance for Blake Griffin to continue shining, a time to elevate Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant on the All-Star stage, but the 32-year-old Bryant reminded them all that he could still grab the spotlight.
The Lakers star made 14 of 26 shots and also had 14 rebounds and three steals in joining Bob Pettit as the only four-time All-Star MVPs.
All-Star success was nothing new to Bryant, who had made headlines at the event since becoming the youngest All-Star ever, playing at age 19 in 1998. He won the MVP award in 2002, 2007 and 2009, sharing it with Shaquille O’Neal two years ago but winning it on his own this time.
“Just being around so many young players gave me so much energy to see them bouncing around and all that sort of stuff,” Bryant said before laughing. “But the fourth quarter, man, I had nothing left. I exceeded my dunk quota for the game.”
Bryant finished five points behind Wilt Chamberlain’s record for points in an All-Star game, set in 1962. Bryant fired away from the start, scoring 21 points in the first half in front of a pro-Lakers crowd.
On one play, he went around Rose for a double-clutch dunk. On another, he scored on a reverse dunk after a feed from Manu Ginobili. He helped clinch the award by beating a fast-closing LeBron James for a fastbreak dunk in the third quarter.
Bryant also moved to fourth in All-Star points, 18 behind career leader Michael Jordan (262 points).
James gave Bryant a run at MVP honors, posting only the second triple-double in All-Star history: 29 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.
“I wish the East would have won,” said Miami’s Dwyane Wade. “Then my teammate with the triple-double would have stole it, but [Bryant] deserved it.”
Amare Stoudemire had 29 points for the East, which never led after an early 4-2 edge. The West led by as many as 17, but James’ driving layup brought the East within 142-140 with 1:12 to play. Pau Gasol answered by tipping in Bryant’s miss, and Chris Paul made two free throws to put the West back in control.
The game ended a weekend filled with intrigue (Griffin’s dunk over a parked car) and drama (the Carmelo Anthony trade saga).
Griffin has elevated the future of the Clippers but had a quiet eight points Sunday after being put in in the fourth quarter. Durant had 34 points for the West and Gasol added 17.
The game had some humorous moments, including Orlando center Dwight Howard launching two three-point attempts (he missed both, of course) and possible soon-to-be teammates Anthony and Stoudemire guarding each other.
Bryant was jovial with media members afterward, though he became serious when asked if the Lakers (38-19) were ready to capture some momentum. They lost three consecutive games before the All-Star break, including an inexplicable one in Cleveland, and trail San Antonio by 81/2 games.
“We are up for the challenge,” Bryant said. “Pau and I have been talking this whole time about looking forward and getting back at it. We have been in communication with the rest of the fellas, and we all can’t wait to get started.”
Lakers fans in attendance demonstrated decent basketball knowledge, booing when four Celtics checked into the game midway into the first quarter (Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett). They also showed good judgment by applauding when Celtics legend Bill Russell was honored. In fact, the entire arena gave him a standing ovation.