Kevin Durant stole the spotlight from LeBron James to help orchestrate a stirring 152-149 All-Star Game victory for the Western Conference on Sunday that shifted from exhibition to grudge match in the closing stages.
Durant and Miami’s James, two of the leading candidates for the regular season MVP Award, matched scoring honours with 36 apiece as they dueled for bragging rights, with the Oklahoma forward doing just enough to win that battle.
“It’s a dream come true,” game MVP Durant told reporters after enjoying the victory along with his own head coach Scott Brooks and Thunder sidekick Russell Westbrook, who added 21 points.
“It’s nerve-wracking (in the final minutes). All these great players that can make so many big shots. I’m just glad we came out on top.”
The West never trailed and led by 20 points with a little more than eight minutes remaining before a furious East rally raised the intensity of the star-studded showcase played out in Orlando’s Amway Center.
James made two of his All-Star Game record-tying six three-pointers during a run that saw the East pull within a point with 22 seconds on the clock.
But after Kobe Bryant split a pair of free throws to stretch the lead back to two points, James made a bad cross-court pass that was intercepted by Blake Griffin as the West held on for victory.
The East still had one last chance to tie the game but Dwyane Wade shot an air ball on a three-point attempt as time expired.
“I had a key turnover when we had a chance to win the game. I feel like I let my team down,” said James, who also added seven assists and six rebounds to his amazing statistical night. “All in all, it was fun.”
Dwight Howard, playing in front of his home crowd, was the focal point heading into the contest but he had a quiet return of nine points and 10 rebounds.
Making his 14th appearance, Bryant also enjoyed a special night by surpassing Michael Jordan as the leading scorer in All-Star Game history.
Bryant had 27 points and now has 271 in total to move ahead of Jordan’s 262.
Griffin scored 22 points and caught plenty of spectacular lobs, many of them from Los Angeles Clippers team mate Chris Paul, who added 12 assists.
Wade recorded a triple-double with 24 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists while Deron Williams added 20 points and Carmelo Anthony 19 for the East.