By TIM REYNOLDS , AP Basketball Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — LeBron James was trading lob pass with Dwyane Wade again, one last time. Lobs from Kyrie Irving once again, too. And after making a stepback 3-pointer late, he stared down Joel Embiid to send a message without saying a word.
Oh, this mattered.
Team LeBron, down by 20 in the second half, finally got firing and went on to beat Team Giannis 178-164 in the All-Star Game on Sunday night. MVP Kevin Durant scored 31 points for Team LeBron, the one that James drafted and led to victory in the captain’s-choice format for a second consecutive season. Klay Thompson scored 20, and James and Kawhi Leonard each scored 19 for the winners.
Giannis Antetokounmpo — the first-time captain — led everybody with 38 points for the club he drafted. Paul George and Khris Middleton each scored 20 points for Team Giannis, which got 17 apiece from Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook.
“We just started making shots,” Durant said.
Durant is now a two-time MVP, also winning it back in 2012. He lauded Charlotte for the weekend.
“Thanks for the hospitality,” Durant said. “It was an amazing weekend. Glad we capped it off with a ‘W.'”
The highlights, as would be expected, were absurdly good, time and again.
Curry slammed the ball off the floor on a first-half fast break and watched it ricochet toward the rim with an apex that flirted with the top of the backboard. Too high for most humans — but Antetokounmpo isn’t most humans. The freakishly long Greek star slammed Curry’s unconventional alley-oop pass home, with both benches reacting in disbelief.
It was not a defensive showcase, as always.
Team Giannis set an All-Star record with 23 field goals in the first quarter, topping the mark of 22 set on four other occasions — by both the West and the East in the first quarter of the 2017 game, and by the West in both the second and third quarters of the 2016 game.
The 53 points tied a one-quarter All-Star record as well, matching the total by the West in the third quarter of the 2016 games and by the East in the first quarter of the 2017 game. But when it was time to get competitive, things tightened up considerably, at least by All-Star standards.
But when Team LeBron used a flurry of 3s to get back into it, everyone on the bench was standing — sometimes running from the bench and onto the court during play, the celebrations a bit more exuberant than what’s usually allowed.
And the All-Star farewells for Miami’s Wade and Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki— the adds to the game by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, in honor of their career bodies of work — were festive, as everyone wanted.
Nowitzki entered the game late in the first quarter and made his first three shots — all of them 3-pointers — before heading back to the bench. Wade checked in not long after Nowitzki took the floor, then started the second half and achieved his primary missions for his last All-Star Game as a player.
He got an alley-oop lob from James.
And he threw an alley-oop lob to James.
Wade dunked, James dunked, and the close friends who entered the NBA together in 2003 and won championships with Miami in 2012 and 2013 got a couple more moments to savor in their final night as on-court teammates.
Wade finished with seven points in 10 minutes, and Nowitzki never returned after his nine-point, four-minute opening stint. When the third quarter ended, every player gathered behind them as Wade and Nowitzki were honored with commemorative jerseys at midcourt.
“Thank you to the commissioner and the NBA for allowing us to both be on this stage again,” Nowitzki said.
“Exactly what Dirk said,” Wade said as he took the microphone. “We’re very thankful for this opportunity. … The game is in great hands. It’s easy to walk away right now.”
Team Giannis: Antetokounmpo was awarded a first-quarter free throw — but instead of shooting it, he tossed a pass to himself off the backboard. It isn’t legal, and didn’t work, but he didn’t mind. … Joel Embiid had 12 rebounds and Antetokounmpo added 11. … Kemba Walker, the lone Charlotte player in the game, had four points on 2-for-8 shooting.
Team LeBron: James spent part of halftime on the court listening to J. Cole’s performance, then grabbed a hug from New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. … New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, who was dealing with a muscle strain in his shoulder, played five minutes and made both of his shot attempts.
Ordinarily “Splash Brothers” in Golden State, Curry went splat — courtesy of Klay Thompson.
Early in the fourth quarter, Curry shot a 3-pointer from the right wing while getting fouled by someone who’s usually his teammate. Thompson gave a dismissive wave, as if to ask “Why’d I do that?” when Curry’s 3 swished. And Curry made the free throw to seal the four-point play.
Victor Oladipo’s season is over with a leg injury that kept him from playing in the All-Star Game as well. The Indiana Pacers star, however, was watching. “Wish I could be there playing with you guys but I know this will be a good game to watch!” Oladipo tweeted. “I was on Team LeBron last year but this year it’s all about #TeamGiannis! Lets Go Fellas!!!” Oladipo was replaced on the Team Giannis roster by Brooklyn’s D’Angelo Russell.
There were no fights, though that didn’t stop the league from bringing in reknowned boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer to deliver his famed “Let’s get ready to rumble” proclamation just before tip-off.
The next All-Star Game is Feb. 16, 2020, in Chicago.
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