MONTREAL, February 14 – The 65th NBA All-Star Game was a Valentine’s Day love-fest for Kobe Bryant, who teamed with the Western Conference’s best in a record-shattering 196-173 victory over the Eastern Conference in the annual mid-season exhibition in Toronto.
In a free-wheeling offensive showcase, Los Angeles Lakers superstar Bryant scored a modest 10 points in his 18th and final turn as an All-Star before he retires at the end of his 20th season.
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook led the West with 31 points, adding eight rebounds, five assists and five steals as he earned Most Valuable Player honors for the second straight year.
Golden State star Stephen Curry added 26 points for the West, who overcame a 41-point performance from Indiana Pacers forward Paul George on behalf of the East.
George just missed the All-Star single-game record of 42 points set by Wilt Chamberlain in 1962 — although Westbrook insisted the slight uptick in the West’s defense in the waning seconds wasn’t aimed at preventing George from surpassing the mark.
“We were just playing lockup defense at the end,” said Russell, although for the most part defense wasn’t part of the program at the Air Canada Centre, where the annual exhibition was being held outside US borders for the first time.
Instead it was a night of soaring dunks and long-range bombs all adding up to unprecedented numbers.
The 369 total points was an All-Star Game record — 48 more than the record set last year — as was the West’s 196 total and their 104 points in the second half.
The Western Conference made a record 31 three-pointers — including seven apiece from Westbrook and James Harden and six from Curry.
The East led 43-40 after the first quarter, but the first half ended with the West up 92-90 and they were up by nine heading into the final frame.
Bryant, smiling and chatting, was at the center of it all, starting with a pre-game ceremony em-ceed by Lakers great Magic Johnson.
“I just want to thank you guys for all your support all these years,” Bryant told the “Ko-be!” chanting crowd.
“I’ve just been extremely fortunate to play the game I love and be in the NBA for over half my life.”
– Bryant ‘a great one’ –
The pre-game ovation for Bryant extended to fellow players and coaches.
“It’s like the passing of a generation,” said San Antonio Spurs and West coach Gregg Popovich. “He’s been such an iconic figure for so long, and he passes it on to that other group of young guys that you saw out there tonight.
“So I’m just thrilled that I was able to be here and see that … He’s a great one.”
Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James was also happy to have another glimpse of Bryant as his time of competing against him winds down.
“Man, I’m happy that I’ve been along for a small piece of the ride of his journey,” said James, whose 13 points for the East took him to 291 in career All-Star Games — one more than Bryant atop the all-time list.
George said he was just happy to have played in Bryant’s “last showing” as an All-Star.
“That 41 was in honor of him,” George said.
Westbrook joined Bob Pettit as the only players in All-Star Game history to win the MVP twice in a row, Pettit winning the honor in 1958 and sharing it with Elgin Baylor in 1959.
But he wasn’t surprised that Bryant’s last All-Star stand was the center of attention.
“I think everybody in the whole arena, whole room, definitely aspired to see Kobe Bryant in his last (All-Star) Game,” Westbrook said. “It’s just an honor and blessing to be able to be a part of it and kind of see him on his way out.”