Between James Jones putting up a score of 20 to win the shootout and Blake Griffin edging out JaVale McGee in an epic duel of dunkery, how could the NBA All-star game possibly measure up?
The answer—with Kobe and LeBron locked in a battle for conference supremacy.
It was one of the best All-Star games that I have ever seen with two of the best individual performances in the history of the East vs. West showdown. Kobe went for 37 points and 14 rebounds and looked to have things in the bag. Then LeBron went bonkers with a triple-double of his own, including 29 points, 12 boards and 10 assists in a comeback attempt that left the East just shy of overcoming a 17-point deficit and achieving victory.
The final was West 148—East 143, but the real story was the Kobe vs. the Miami Heat grudge match that was clearly taking place during the midseason classic.
Before tip-off, Kobe whispered something to Dwayne Wade of the Heat. After the tip, it was clear that Kobe meant whatever it was he said, because he proceeded to torch Wade and James almost exclusively for 21 points in the first half. His first shot was a fade away jumper over Wade with Wade draped all over him. He drained that shot and continued to dominate the young shooting guard for the rest of the half.
During the first 24 minutes of play, he managed to lose Wade on the baseline and raise up for a double-clutch dunk the likes of which I haven't seen from him in five years. He was shooting threes over Wade and he even had a backdoor schoolyard style steal on the baseline that Wade never saw coming.
LeBron tried to get in the act and back his team mate up, but he didn't fair much better. James tried to hawk Kobe down for one of his patented dunk swats, but instead got posterized. He looked dumbfounded when he realized what had happened and then threw an errant pass that was quickly turned into a Kobe three-pointer.
A few possessions later, Kobe took the drive right down the lane for another easy two with a stutter-step that froze James like a statue. It was not a pretty half for the East and toward the end of it, Wade tweaked an ankle sprain that he suffered weeks ago which ironically ended his pain for the night.
The injury was the only thing that stopped Kobe from abusing him.
At halftime, Kobe was asked just what he said to Wade before the game. He simply smirked, laughed, and said, "That wasn't about the game. It was something else. Something humorous." Whatever it was, Kobe must have thought it was very humorous, because the grin never left his face for the remainder of the interview. The score at the half was West 76—East 64.
The second half brought more of the same from Kobe, but the fourth quarter belonged to LeBron, who had only scored six at halftime. As I said earlier, James pulled off a triple double—it was only the second time in All-Star game history that someone did that (Michael Jordan had the other one)—and rallied the Eastern team with slashing powerful drives the likes of which only LeBron can pull off.
He was dishing dimes, darting for dunks and digging for dirt on the offensive glass, earning with 8 offensive rebounds in the contest. The Fourth quarter was the LeBron show—where he scored 10 of his 29 points—but it wasn't enough to get his team the win.
Still, this was one wonderful war waged by two warriors that both brought their 'A' game for what at some points looked like something a little bit more than just your average friendly exhibition game. Kobe started with a purpose and as a result he ended up with the fourth-highest scoring game in any All-Star game and his record-tying fourth All-Star MVP award.
LeBron finished with a purpose of his own and he gave us one of the most prolific performances in All-Star game lore. His triple-double combined with Kobe's pair of fours—highest point total and MVP awards—added up to one of the greatest two-man shows that this game has ever brought NBA fans.
It was historic, even if it was meaningless and it left me forgetting—if just for a moment—that Blake Griffin is a monster. This was a show of a completely different level and anyone who saw it got the cherry on top of the sundae that was 2011's All-star weekend. It's one more in the books, but it sure sets the stage for a great second-half of NBA season action.
If the Heat and Lakers wind up facing off in the NBA finals this season, I'm not missing a game after watching this. Here's to hoping.