LeBron James captained the winning team in the NBA All-Star Game for the third straight season as Team LeBron beat Team Giannis 157-155 on Sunday at United Center in Chicago.
James is unbeaten since the NBA adopted the All-Star draft format in 2018. This is also the second year the four-time league MVP bested Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard collected the game's Kobe Bryant MVP Award, lifting the trophy for the first time.
Heading into the fourth quarter, Team LeBron trailed Team Giannis 133-124. That set the stage for a frantic final frame, decided by Anthony Davis' free throw. Davis added a bit of drama by missing his first attempt, but he sank the second:
Kawhi Leonard, F, Team LeBron: 30 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals
LeBron James, F, Team LeBron: 23 points, six assists, five rebounds, two blocks, one steal
Chris Paul, G, Team LeBron: 23 points, six assists, two rebounds
Giannis Antetokounmpo, F, Team Giannis: 25 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, three blocks, one steal
Kemba Walker, G, Team Giannis: 23 points, three rebounds, three assists, one steal
Rudy Gobert, C, Team Giannis: 21 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, one block
Kawhi Leonard Crosses Another Accolade off Career List
Leonard has accumulated quite the resume through his first nine years. This was his fourth All-Star appearance, and he's a two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP. He has also earned two Defensive Player of the Year awards and three All-NBA honors.
Now, the 28-year-old can add an All-Star MVP to his growing trophy case.
There's a certain level of irony in Leonard's shining the brightest in an event that's antithetical to the persona he has cultivated. Rather than throwing down a series of electrifying alley-oops, he did his damage from beyond the arc (8-of-14).
In keeping with his playing style, Leonard turned up the defense when Team LeBron was looking to put Team Giannis away.
Nobody has forgotten how great Leonard can be on his best night. His load-management plan for the regular season means fans can't see that version of Kawhi as frequently as they might otherwise.
Sunday was merely another reminder of what makes him so special.
New Scoring Format Delivers Dramatic Finish
In an effort to generate more interest in the All-Star Game, the NBA changed how the contest is scored this year. Rather than the point totals rolling over across each quarter, the scoreboard reset following the first, second and third frames.
The "final target score" was introduced as well. As a nod to Bryant, 24 points were added to the overall score of Team Giannis, and the first team to reach that number was the winner.
One question immediately asked was how long an untimed quarter would last with such a relatively low "final target score." Team LeBron and Team Giannis combined for 94 points in the opening frame. That concern was put to bed rather quickly.
In general, the change was well received on social media once things took effect:
There was a clear difference in the competitiveness between the teams once the result hung in the balance.
Getting the players to take the entire All-Star Game seriously is probably impossible, and it isn't the ideal solution. The night is supposed to feature a lot of highlights.
The installment of the "final target score" creates a nice mix between a fun spectacle to start and a hard-fought fourth quarter. Perhaps next year, however, the league can amend the rules to ensure the game isn't decided at the charity stripe.
Players have a few more days to enjoy the All-Star break. The regular season resumes Thursday with six games across the league.