CHICAGO >> Players were taking charges, bodies were hitting the floor, calls and non-calls were being screamed about on both ends. The fourth quarter of the NBA All-Star Game was as intense as the final moments of a playoff game, the biggest stars in the league holding absolutely nothing back.
And in the end, Anthony Davis was a hometown hero by making a free throw.
Kobe Bryant — ever the competitor — would have simply loved the way this night went.
“That was pretty damn fun,” a sweat-soaked, exhausted LeBron James said at the end.
Davis made a game-ending free throw to give Team LeBron a 157-155 win over Team Giannis in the revamped NBA All-Star Game tonight, the format overhauled to put in elements for charity and ensure that someone was going to hit a shot to end the game.
That someone was Davis, the Chicago native who missed the first free throw and made the second to end the NBA’s midseason showcase that went down as the closest All-Star Game since the Eastern Conference topped the Western Conference 141-139 in 2010.
Kawhi Leonard, the game’s MVP and the first recipient of the trophy now named for Bryant, scored 30 points for Team LeBron, while James — his team’s captain — and Chris Paul each scored 23, and Davis finished with 20.
“This one’s for him,” Leonard said, speaking of Bryant afterward.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, who captained his team, led his squad with 25 points, Kemba Walker had 23 for Team Giannis, Joel Embiid scored 22 and Rudy Gobert added 21.
“I think it was really interesting,” said Team Giannis coach Nick Nurse of the NBA champion Toronto Raptors. “It was really fun, each and every quarter, from a coaching standpoint.”
The finish was frantic, and then some. James tried a layup that would have put his team one point away — it was blocked by Antetokounmpo, called a goaltend at first but ruled a clean block after review. Team LeBron controlled the resulting jump ball and James tried a 40-footer to end it but missed.
James Harden then had a chance to win it for Team LeBron, and his 3-pointer went in — but it was waved off by Kyle Lowry taking a charge against the NBA’s scoring leader. James got a dunk not long afterward to make it 156-153, and Embiid made two free throws to cut Team LeBron’s lead to one.
With that, it was next-basket-wins time.
“Really cool,” Nurse said.
Davis was fouled on the next trip, got the free throw to win it, and that was that.
“I told my team I was going to miss the first one to put a little more pressure on myself here at home,” Davis said.
James’ team wore blue jerseys, all with the No. 2 for Gianna Bryant. Antetokounmpo’s team wore red, every player wearing No. 24 on the back for Kobe Bryant. And on their right shoulders was a black circular patch with nine stars, one for each victim of the helicopter crash that took the lives of Bryant, his daughter and their seven friends on Jan. 26.
“His presence was felt,” James said.
And with the new rules, the teams went at it in the fourth: Antetokounmpo got out to block a shot by James, Lowry took a charge from his former Toronto teammate in Leonard, elbows got up in collisions for rebound positioning, Paul was screaming encouragement to Team LeBron teammates in a time-out — all adding up to an intensity hardly ever seen in All-Star Games.
“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.”
It was the first All-Star Game with a new format: The teams played a mini-game in each of the first three quarters, the scores starting at 0-0 in each of those periods and the winning team in each one earning $100,000 for their Chicago-area children’s charity.
James’ team won the first quarter 53-41, Antetokoumpo’s team won the second quarter 51-30.
The third quarter had down-to-the-wire, big-money drama with $100,000 on the line. But the teams finished the quarter tied 41-41, putting $300,000 — the undecided $100,000 from the third and $200,000 more for the win — at stake in the final period.
The cumulative score at that point was Team Giannis 133, Team LeBron 124 going into the untimed fourth quarter — with another new twist. The NBA decided, as part of the series of Bryant tributes, that the winner of the All-Star Game would be the team that added 24 points, a nod to his jersey number, to whatever the leading total score was after three quarters.
That meant the target score was set: 157. The game clock was off. The shot clock stayed on. The stage for drama was perfectly set, and the All-Star Game — oft-maligned in recent years for a lack of competitiveness — was entertaining again.
Team LeBron: Paul threw down an alley-oop dunk from Russell Westbrook in the second quarter. According to Basketball-Reference, Paul’s last dunk in a regular season game came in December 2015. He had two playoff dunks since. … Arvydas Sabonis, who was never an All-Star during his career, was in attendance to watch son Domantas Sabonis’ All-Star debut.
Team Giannis: Trae Young, no stranger to shooting from very deep, connected on a halfcourt shot to end the second quarter. … Eight of Antetokounmpo’s first 10 field goals were dunks — and he also missed a pair of slams in that span.
Team LeBron tied a single-quarter record with 53 points in the first quarter, James set the record by starting a 16th All-Star Game (breaking a mark he shared with Bryant), and James moved past Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most All-Star minutes in a career.
Among the stars of stage in screen in attendance to watch basketball’s All-Stars: Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Metta World Peace, Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah, Common, Chaka Khan (who performed the national anthem pregame), Chance the Rapper, DJ Khaled, Donnie Wahlberg, Bad Bunny, Guy Fieri, Jon Stewart, Jose Andres, Katelyn Ohashi, Lil Wayne, Ludacris, Patrick Mahomes and Spike Lee.
Also there: Former Philadelphia star Allen Iverson, who wore Bryant’s original No. 8 Lakers jersey along with a Lakers hat and drew roars from the crowd, along with Sue Bird, Megan Rapinoe and Diana Taurasi.
The 70th NBA All-Star Game is Feb. 14, 2021 in Indianapolis. That’ll be followed by the 2022 game in Cleveland and the 2023 game in Salt Lake City.