Team LeBron triumphs in NBA All-Star Game

The NBA concocted a recipe that produced a memorable finish to the 2020 NBA All-Star Game.

The traditional method of keeping score was nixed for this year’s contest. Instead, it was one more tribute to the late Kobe Bryant.

So here’s what happened: The league came up with a plan that awarded the victory to whichever team first scored 24 points in the fourth quarter after adding that total to the leading team’s total after three quarters.

With three quarter in the books on Sunday at the United Center in Chicago, Team Giannis held a 133-124 lead over Team LeBron.

And so, the target was 157 points — whoever got it first would win.

But wait, there’s more quirkiness that was involved in the final stanza: No game clock. The shot clock was still in use, though.

Team LeBron found a way to reach the point target first, winning 157-155.

Los Angeles Lakers big man Anthony Davis made a game-ending free throw, his 20th point of the night.

LeBron James

In the run-up to Davis’ winning shot, LeBron James dunked to give his club a 156-153 lead.

Team Giannis’ Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers) trimmed the lead to 156-155 on a pair of free throws.

Before LeBron’s dunk, Team LeBron’s James Harden (Houston Rockets) had buried a 3-pointer that would have been the game-winning shot. However, he was called for an offensive foul on the play.

Reactions to NBA All-Star Game format

“That was pretty damn fun,” James declared afterward.

“I think it was really interesting,” commented Team Giannis bench boss Nick Nurse, who coaches the reigning champion Toronto Raptors. “It was really fun, each and every quarter, from a coaching standpoint.”

“To me, probably the best All-Star game ever,” Embiid said. “Guys competed, it came down to basically the last shot, but I don’t think you should be able to win on a free throw. But overall it was a lot of fun.”

Los Angeles Clippers superstar Kawhi Leonard finished with 30 points, including eight 3-pointers, seven rebounds and four assists for Team LeBron. James poured in 23 points, as did Chris Paul (Oklahoma City Thunder), who knocked down seven 3s. Second-year sensation Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks) had eight points.

Leonard earned game MVP honors.

“It means a lot to me,” Leonard said in a TV interview after the game.

He added: “Words can’t even explain, just making this the first Kobe Bryant MVP trophy. I want to thank Kobe for everything he (has) done for me, all the long talks, the workouts, thank you.

“This one is for him.”

Kawhi Leonard blocks Giannis Antetokounmpo’s shot in the second half.

For Team Giannis, Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks) notched a double-double with 25 points and 11 boards. Kemba Walker (Boston Celtics) finished with 23 points, Embiid had 22 and Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz) contributed 21. Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks) dished out 10 assists.

Above all, Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant loomed large over the entire weekend as the basketball world united in celebrating his legacy and collectively mourned his passing.

Moving tributes to Kobe Bryant

The 2020 NBA All-Star Game included various tributes to Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26 in California along with his daughter, Gianna, and seven others.

Chicago native and rapper Common paid tribute to Bryant and the city’s rich basketball tradition, mentioning Windy City products Mark Aguirre, Tim Hardaway, Isiah Thomas and Dwyane Wade, among others, in his spoken-word performance.

“He used his game to touch the world’s soul, a king named Kobe Bryant who wore purple and gold,” Common said.

Kobe Bryant MVP Award

League leadership recognizes how much Kobe resonated with fans and people connected to the sport. Therefore, the league picked the return of the NBA All-Star Game to Chicago for the first time since 1988 to unveil a new honor to commemorate his lasting legacy.

The All-Star Game MVP Award was permanently renamed the Kobe Bryant MVP Award, it was announced on Saturday.

“Kobe Bryant is synonymous with NBA All-Star and embodies the spirit of this global celebration of our game,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “He always relished the opportunity to compete with the best of the best and perform at the highest level for millions of fans around the world.”

Fans (25 percent of the vote) and the media (75 percent) decided that Leonard was the MVP

Additional dedications to Kobe

During pre-game festivities, Lakers legend Magic Johnson stood on the United Center court and introduced the singer Jennifer Hudson, who delivered an emotional, heartfelt rendition of “For All We Know.”

Before the spotlight turned to Hudson, Johnson said: “We will never see another basketball player quite like Kobe. He was passionate about being a great father, husband, filmmaker.”

When Magic spoke, fans erupted into an impromptu chant of “Kobe, Kobe, Kobe.”

Not surprisingly, he then requested 8 seconds of silence for Bryant. Which, of course, was symbolic of the first jersey (No. 8) he wore as a pro player.

There were numerous other tributes to Bryant and the victims of the helicopter crash throughout All-Star weekend.

For instance, during Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge, a showcase for the league’s first- and second-year players, Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans and his counterparts donned patches with the numbers 2 and 24 that were surrounded by nine stars. Gianna Bryant had worn a No. 2 jersey for her youth basketball team.

In addition, Tam LeBron players all wore No. 2 on their blue jerseys and Team Giannis players all wore No. 24 on their red jerseys for Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game. (NBA Hall of Famer Allen Iverson attended the game wearing a No. 8 Kobe jersey, which Bryant first wore during his Lakers career.)

Rising Stars Challenge

Team USA defeated Team World 151-131 in the Rising Stars Challenge.

Williamson, the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft out Duke University, finished with 14 points and seven rebounds in nearly 20 minutes. One of Zion’s powerful dunks required stadium workers to put the basket back in its original alignment during halftime.

“We went into the halftime, and my teammates started telling me about it,” he told reporters. “I don’t know which dunk it was on, but I don’t think it was me.”

Team USA’s Miles Brides (Charlotte Hornets), who scored 20 points, received game MVP honors.

Team World’s RJ Barrett (New York Knicks) had a game-high 27 points.

Other All-Star Weekend activities

On Saturday, Derrick Jones Jr. of the Miami Heat won the Slam Dunk Content and teammate Bam Adebayo triumphed in the All-Star Skills Challenge. Sacramento Kings sharpshooter Buddy Hield won the 3-Point Shootout.

Jones capped his victory with a running windmill dunk.

It was a special achievement for Jones, the first Heat to win the Dunk Contest since Harold Miner in 1995. Miner also grabbed the title in ’93.

“Being able to get an achievement like this on a day like this, it’s special for me,” said Jones, who was celebrating his 23rd birthday on Saturday. “This is a day that I’m going to tell my kids, just make sure they know that this is a day for me.”

Adebayo admitted that a victory in the Skills Challenge was special to him. He cited Kobe as an inspiration.

“When I was in high school, I said if I get to the NBA, I want to meet Kobe,” Adebayo said. “I felt like this (was) my All-Star to do it. I feel like he’s been more of an impact now than he was back then. Not saying that him living didn’t do anything for me, but it just means more now that I know I can never meet him. I feel like he knows who I am now. So just keep trying to make him proud.”

Heat legend Wade was the Skills Challenge winner in 2006 and ’07.

Hield’s insights

What was Hield’s reaction to winning the 3-Point Shootout?

I felt great,” Hield told reporters. “Like I said earlier, as a shooter, this is on your bucket list. You have to come in, and you want to win a 3-Point Shootout. With a stacked field like that, it makes it even better.

“Pressure is on, and you’ve got to show up.”

Hield, who hails from the Bahamas, dedicated his victory to people affected by Hurricane Dorian last year.

“It’s a blessing,” Hield said. “Just knowing where I come from, and just giving a sign of hope that if I can do it, you can do it, and you gotta put your mind to it and put God first.

“Like the Mamba mentality, anything is possible, for sure.”

Hall of Fame finalists

Fittingly, it was on Valentine’s Day that the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced, in conjunction with NBA All-Star weekend, four first-time finalists for possible induction into the Class of 2020.

Love of basketball drove these individuals to greatness in their chosen profession.

NBA legends Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett and 10-time WNBA All-Star Tamika Catchings are the new finalists.

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