LeBron joins greats with third All-Star MVP
LEBRON James finished just two assists shy of a triple double as he dominated the NBA All-Star game to lead the team he captained to a 148-145.
In a new format which saw James and Stephen Curry pick teams from the players selected, it was Team LeBron which triumphed on the back of an awesome performance by their leader.
James was named game MVP after a game-high 29 points - Kevin Durant was next best on his team with 19 - and eight assists and 10 rebounds.
In contrast, Curry struggled from the field for most of the night, hitting just 4/14 shots for 11 points and failing to get a shot off during the final possession when his team had a chance to tie the game.
Regular season MVP James Harden (12 points, 5/19 shooting) also struggled for Team Stephen, which received even contribution from a range of players, including Damian Lillard (21 points), DeMar DeRozan (21 points), Joel Embiid (19 points), Karl-Anthony Town (17 points), Giannis Antetokounmpo (16 points) and Klay Thompson (15 points).
But in the end the cream of Team LeBron was slightly better, as Durant (7/13 shooting) and Paul George (16 points, 4/10 threes) stood up when they needed to.
But it was really down to James, who joined Bob Pettit, Kobe Bryant (four), Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal (three) as the only players with three All-Star Game MVPs after also taking the honours in 2006 and 2008.
For any Aussie fans wondering, Goran Dragic - the man blamed for taking Ben Simmons' spot in the game - had two points in 11 minutes.
Team LeBron: LeBron James, LaMarcus Aldridge, Bradley Beal, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Kevin Durant, Goran Dragic, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Victor Oladipo, Kemba Walker, Russell Westbrook.
Team Stephen: Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, DeMar DeRozan, Joel Embiid, Draymond Green, James Harden, Al Horford, Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry, Klay Thompson, Karl-Anthony Towns
Fourth quarter: James takes over
Damian Lillard (21 points) and DeMar DeRozan (20 points) turned the game in Team Stephen's favour, scoring a flurry of points to establish a 133-120 lead midway through the fourth.
Lillard had shade thrown his way for campaigning for an All-Star spot, but he showed he belonged by hitting 9/14 field goals.
But LeBron James kept coming, converting a three-point play to move to 24 points and close the gap to five points.
The intensity lifted noticeably and when James hit his fourth triple of the game it was tied at 144-144 with 1:31 on the clock.
DeRozan put Team Stephen up by one point by hitting one of two free throws with 40 seconds remaining. James responded with a left-handed finish over Draymond Green and then, following a turnover by DeRozan, threw an outlet to Westbrook, who scored to make it 148-145 with 10.7 seconds left.
The best defence played in an All-Star game in years prevented Stephen Curry from getting a shot off on the final possession as Team LeBron won by three points.
"We wanted to win, man," Russell Westbrook said.
Third quarter: LeBron chasing history
With captain Stephen Curry sitting on the bench eating popcorn, Team Stephen maintained its lead early in the third.
Karl-Anthony Towns (17 points), Joel Embiid (15 points) and Damian Lillard (14 points) all put in work for Team Stephen as they finished the quarter up 112-109.
But LeBron James, who last year broke the record for the most points in All-Star game history by becoming the first player to score 300 career points, continued to lead all scorers with 19 as he eyes his third MVP trophy.
Kevin Durant (14 points) and Bradley Beal (14 points) have been the next most prolific on Team LeBron.
Curry emerged late in the term to take his tallies to 11 points, five assists and six rebounds but has endured a tough shooting night. Regular season MVP favourite James Harden (2/10 threes) has also been off target, scoring just eight points.
Second quarter: A tale of two captains
LeBron James put his name in the early conversation for game MVP, hitting his second and third three-pointers in the second to move to a game-high 15 points.
James, who also has two assists and eight rebounds, sparked a 13-0 run which pulled his team back to 50-48 after they fell behind by 15 points.
His opposite number Curry was ice cold, missing his first six shots, including five from long range. But an even contribution by the rest of his team's starters - and five triples off the bench by Klay Thompson - kept Team Stephen in front 78-76 at halftime.
Bob Pettit, Kobe Bryant (four), Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal (three) are the only players with more All-Star Game MVPs than James, who took the honours in 2006 and 2008.
First quarter: KAT, AD prolific
Anthony Davis had joked about shooting less this year after taking 39 shots from the field while scoring an All-Star record 52 points in last year's MVP-winning performance.
But he wasn't shy in the first five minutes of Monday's game, hitting three of five shots for six points in the first five minutes.
Karl-Anthony Towns (11 points) took over after the benches hit the court to lead Team Stephen to a 42-31 advantage.
Team LeBron lived up to its promise of taking the game more seriously, recording six fouls in the first stanza. Team LeBron also had two blocks, while both teams recorded three steals.
There were definitely some unforced turnovers - but there was a little more defence too.
Pre-game entertainment, anthem flat out terrible
As we waited for tip-off we were treated to a bizarre pre-game skit/performance led by Kevin Hart that also featured actor Adam DeVine, Queen Latifah, Rob Riggle and Ludacris.
The less written about it the better.
After 17 minutes of flat out weirdness, we finally made it to player introductions. It wasn't much better.
But worse was to come. After the Barenaked Ladies performed the Canadian national anthem, Fergie did the honours for the US.
And man was she bad. Appearing to attempt to seduce the crowd in the style of Marilyn Monroe singing "Happy birthday, Mr President", Fergie laboured through a marathon rendition.
The cameras comically caught Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green watching with his mouth open - before he cracked a huge smile when he realised he'd been sprung.