NBA All-Star Game 2018: LeBron James Wins MVP as Team LeBron Beats Team Stephen

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistFebruary 19, 2018

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 18: LeBron James #23  of Team LeBron goes up for the dunk against Team Curry during the NBA All-Star Game as a part of 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend at STAPLES Center on February 18, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James dropped 29 points and took home MVP honors as the squad he captained defeated Team Stephen 148-145 in the 2018 NBA All-Star Game at Staples Center on Sunday night. 

Team LeBron trailed by 11 points with 5:18 remaining, but a late charge spearheaded by James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook helped erase that deficit before the captain deposited a go-ahead finger roll with 34.5 seconds left in regulation. 

James and Durant then swarmed Stephen Curry on a potential game-tying three with time winding down to seal the win for their side. 

"We got stops when we needed to," Westbrook told TNT's Kristen Ledlow after the win. "... We wanted to win." 

Needless to say, the playground-style draft fostered a more competitive atmosphere that brought out the best from both sides, especially down the stretch: 

James, meanwhile, now owns three All-Star MVPs after taking home the hardware in 2006 and 2008. The only players with more are Bob Pettit and Kobe Bryant, each of whom earned the honor four times. 

Here's a look of the night's biggest storylines. 

   

LeBron Flirts with a Triple-Double, Shares a Laugh With Kyrie

LeBron's play in the fourth quarter stole the show, but his performance over the first three quarters wasn't bad either, as he added 10 rebounds and eight assists to his gaudy final line. 

Early on, James played the role of facilitator as he served up a bounce-pass alley-oop for New Orleans Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis: 

A bit later, James was on the receiving end of lobs from Westbrook (11 points, eight assists, eight rebounds) and Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker (11 points): 

And even when he wasn't on the floor, James caught the camera's attention when he and Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving (13 points, nine assists, seven rebounds) shared a laugh that seemed to indicate there's no lingering ill will between the two stemming from the floor general's offseason departure: 

Thanks to his efforts Sunday, James—who was already the All-Star Game's all-time leading scorernow ranks among the top five in appearances, points, assists and three-pointers, according to ESPN Stats & Info

   

Defense and 3s Rule the Day 

Before the festivities started, LeBron made it clear he wanted the All-Star Game to be more competitive.

"This is the reason they did this format to make it very competitive," James said, per Cleveland.com's Joe Vardon. "The All-Star Game hasn't been what it should be the last few years. I'm going to take it upon myself and obviously the rest of the guys to go out there and play the game the right way and compete. Our fans deserve it."

The players listened. 

While the defense wasn't perfect and easy buckets were still plentiful, both sides contested shots, cut off passing lanes and attempted to alter field-goal attempts at the rim with exponentially more effort than years past. 

As if that wasn't enough, LeBron's team also brought out a full-court press late in the first half, as the Washington Post's Tim Bontemps observed: 

On the other end, a proliferation of threes couldn't be ignored. 

While All-Star defenses used to clear out the paint and allow players to use the lane as a personal runway, more concerted defensive showings resulted in three-point attempts galore. 

All told, Team LeBron shot 19-of-58 from distance and Team Stephen converted 17-of-65 long-range shots, as they combined to hoist a whopping 123 triples. 

   

Joel Embiid Shines Among First-Time All-Stars

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid didn't waste time making noise in his All-Star debut. 

Not only did the 23-year-old score Team Stephen's first five points, but he produced one of the evening's most memorable two-way sequences when he drilled a deep three before swatting Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook on the other end: 

The Process finished the evening with 19 points, eight rebounds and two blocks, including a huge block of Paul George in a tie game with 45.3 seconds to go.

Embiid, who has developed something of a rivalry with Westbrook thanks to a pair of heated Sixers-Thunder games this season, acknowledged he was motivated by Russ' presence. 

"I love the competition, I respect Russell and his game, but he's not getting anything on me," he told TNT's David Aldridge during the first half. 

Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns didn't disappoint, either. 

Making his first appearance in the midseason exhibition, the Team Stephen center piled up 17 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. 

Fellow first-timer Victor Oladipo didn't make the same kind of impact in the box score, as he managed seven points. 

However, the Indiana Pacers shooting guard produced one of the evening's most gaudy highlights when he threw down a filthy transition slam: 

If this season has been any indication, fans should be prepared for Embiid, Towns and Oladipo to become All-Star mainstays moving forward. 

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