He’s been the most valuable player of the NBA and its All-Star game, and twice in the last two years, he was MVP of the Finals as the Golden State Warriors won championships.
Kevin Durant is used to being one of the best. And Sunday, playing against his fellow superstars, he once again was the best of the best.
Durant, the No. 1 pick in the All-Star draft, responded to LeBron James’ choice by saying, “What else is he supposed to do?” Durant proved more than worth it, scoring 31 points on 10-for-15 shooting to lead Team LeBron to a 178-164 comeback victory over Team Giannis in the All-Star game and earn MVP honors for the second time.
“It’s all sweet to me. I mean, it’s hard to rank. Everything’s special,” said Durant, who also was MVP of the game in 2012. “But it’s cool to be out there with some of the best players to ever play the game, and to win an MVP here in front of my family and friends is pretty sweet. I just keep trying to rack them up, I guess.”
For Durant, it’s a prelude to possibly the postseason and then the summer ahead, when he’ll once again be center stage, this time as the best in a loaded class of free agents that’s expected to include All-Stars Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Khris Middleton and Kemba Walker.
And it served as a reminder of just how high a mountain there is to climb for any teams trying to chase down the Warriors, the No. 1 team in the West, and keep them from winning a third straight title.
Everywhere you looked at Spectrum Center, there was a Warrior in the center of the action.
Stephen Curry, the son of Charlotte’s second all-time leading scorer, Dell Curry, provided the highlight of the first half by connecting on a ridiculous alley-oop with Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Curry caught the ball in the open court and slammed it to the floor, bouncing it high into the air. A streaking Antetokounmpo, the 6-foot-11 “Greek Freak” with a 7-3 wingspan, found it somewhere above the square on the backboard and, with his right hand, slammed it through the basket.
“I think that pass was going to Joel [Embiid], but I was able to sneak in there and make it look like a good pass for me,” said Antetokounmpo, who scored a game-high 38 points on 17-for-23 shooting as the team captain opposing James. “It was a nice play.”
Thompson, Curry’s Warriors teammate who got to oppose him as a member of Team LeBron, was hot all game, hitting six of 12 from three-point range, helping bring his team back from 20 down.
Curry, though, got a highlight against Thompson early in the fourth quarter when he drilled one of his four three-point shots over him, drawing a foul. He celebrated with a big smile and two-fingered point directly at his fellow Splash Brother. Thompson walked away shaking his head.
“Those guys are always joking around and seeing who can make the most shots. Their chemistry together is second to none,” Durant said. “So we know we’re going to be talking about that play, those two plays for the next couple of days. It was good to see Steph knock that shot down over Klay, because Klay is always talking trash to him.”
But all that fun? That’s over now.
“Mentally, you’re locking in a little more,” Detroit’s Blake Griffin said. “These last 26 [or so] games are so important. Every game is so important. … This is the home stretch.”
Teams soon will cross the 60-game threshold, putting them into the final quarter of their 82-game season. Playoff races that looked like marathons back in December? Those become sprints to the finish, especially for James and the Lakers, who are 10th in the West, three games behind the Clippers and the eighth and final playoff spot.
“Looking forward to seeing what we can do to get back in this playoff race. That’s my only mind-set,” James said. “That’s the only thing that’s going to happen in my mental space for these next two months, pretty much on how I can get this team playing the type of level of basketball we were playing before my injury.”
And their reward if they get there? It just might be a scene-stealing Curry, a sharp-shooting Thompson and Durant, a player who just added another trophy to his mantle.