On Sunday, the 2018 NBA All-Star Game came to STAPLES Center to wrap up an eventful All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles, and the headlining act for the weekend, LeBron James, led his team to victory over Team Stephen 148-145.
James finished the night two assists short of a triple-double with 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists and took home the All-Star Game MVP honors. James eared the third All-Star Game MVP trophy of his career but the first time he'd claimed the honor since 2008, a full decade earlier.
Rather than the traditional East versus West format, the NBA named the two top vote-getters, James and Stephen Curry, as team captains to try and add life to the Sunday showcase. The two picked their teams of All-Stars by taking turns in a playground style prior to the weekend.
The new format hoped to reverse the recent trend of a lack of defense and competition in the mid-season exhibition, and Sunday's game provided exactly what the league hoped for. Defense was on display throughout the night, and the final game-winning play featured a defensive stop by Team LeBron.
Trailing by three points, Team Stephen had a multitude of shooters able to drain a long range attempt and force overtime, but James' team played such stiffling defense that Team Stephen failed to even get a shot off before time expired.
For Team Stephen, third-time All-Star Damian Lillard led led the way with 21 points, as the Portland Trail Blazers guard made nine of his 14 attempts on the day and played an efficient game. Team Stephen coach Mike D'Antoni chose to go with his starters down the stretch and took Lillard out, which was a decision that seemed to cost the Houston Rockets' coach the game.
Lillard finished the night as a plus-18, which was the best plus-minus of any player on the night.
Other standout performers included Karl-Anthony Towns, who finished with a double-double in his first All-Star appearance. "KAT" scored 17 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to highlight a new wave of young All-Stars. Joel Embiid also fell into that category, as the Sixers center tabbed 19 points, eight rebounds and a couple blocks in only 20 minutes on the floor.
Surprisingly, Curry struggled to get going and even chose to sit out to start the second half. The Golden State Warriors star only scored 11 points and missed 10 of his 14 field goal attempts on the night. Klay Thompson, one of four Warriors in the game, caught fire from distance early and hit five of his 10 three-point attempts on the night. Thompson finished with 15 points. Kevin Durant, who was the only Warriors player on Team LeBron, finished with 19 points to lead the way for the Golden State foursome.
"It's not the first time I played with LeBron," Durant reminded reporters after the game. "We played in the Olympics together, so I kind of knew (how to play with him)."
Highlighting the modern style of the NBA, the two teams combined for 123 three-point attempts, meaning more than half of the shots in the game came from beyond the three-point line. Unfortunately for Team Stephen, only 17 of its 65 three-point attempts felt the bottom of the net. Team LeBron was only slightly sharper with 19 makes in 58 attempts.
Ultimately, the new format achieved its goal of making a more competitive game and added meaning to a game that had seemingly lost more and more of its shine with every passing year.
"We wanted to kind of change the narrative of the All-Star Game being a joke," Durant said after the game. "Today we wanted to make it a real basketball game."
James winning the MVP provided the perfect conclusion to the weekend, as the basketball star had been the center of attention all weekend long after becoming embroiled in a national controversy with a Fox News host. Added to that, James is also considered a prime target free agent target for the Los Angeles Lakers in the upcoming summer.
James added fuel to that latter fire with his post-game comments suggesting Los Angeles was a perfect host city for the event: "[LA]'s built for stars. It's built for entertainment. It's built for cameras and bright lights. It's a great place for [the All-Star Game]."
All in all, the 2018 NBA All-Star Game was a success, and the league will likely repeat the same team captain format in Charlotte in 2019.