Kobe Bryant had his NBA All-Star game farewell and the next generation of the West’s best sent him off a winner, rolling to a record-setting 196-173 victory over the East on Sunday night.
The first All-Star Game outside the US was the highest-scoring ever, with both teams piling up more than any team had ever managed. Bryant didn’t provide much of the offense but many of the memories. He finished with just 10 points, so few that he lost his career lead in All-Star Game scoring to LeBron James, even though James also had a quiet night.
But Russell Westbrook scored 31 points in his second straight All-Star MVP performance, Stephen Curry added 26, Anthony Davis 24, and Kevin Durant 23. Paul George finished with 41 for the East, tying Westbrook’s total from last year in New York that was one off Wilt Chamberlain’s record. John Wall added 22 points.
James finished with 13 points, just enough to move ahead of Bryant for most ever in the All-Star Game. He has 291, while Bryant, who is retiring after this season, leaves with 290. He checked out with 1:06 left to cheers and hugs from his fellow All-Stars who now put up points in bunches the way Bryant did for so long.
Bryant had seven assists and six rebounds, but shot just 4 for 11 in a game where there isn’t really much defense and had never been less. The 369 combined points were 48 more than last year’s record, and both clubs blew away the previous individual team record of 163. But people just wanted to see Bryant play, not necessarily play well.
The pregame was a celebration first of Canada, then of Bryant. Player introductions came from two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash and Grammy winner Drake. Canadian Nelly Furtado sang her country’s national anthem.
Then it was time for two video tributes for Bryant, whose 18 All-Star selections are second only to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Bryant thanked fans who have given him more than 30m votes in his career, and as he finished speaking all the All-Stars lined up in the background to salute him. He took the opening jump ball against James — neither team had a true centre voted to the starting lineup — and each East starter took a turn early covering Bryant.
Toronto hosted the very first NBA game in 1946. No one who saw that game would recognise the way it looked Sunday.
Curry and Durant launched shots from spots where only buzzer-beating heaves were once attempted, and Westbrook put together another combination of speed and force that turned it into a rare All-Star blowout in the second half. The West has won five of the last six even without longtime mainstay Bryant, who hadn’t played since 2013 because of injuries. But players like Westbrook, Durant and Curry are more than ready to shoulder the load.
At 37, Bryant has trouble keeping up with the youngsters — especially the really young ones. Chris Paul’s son stole the ball from him as Bryant warmed up for the second half. But he was the star without playing a starring a role. He had said he didn’t want players forcing him the ball in an effort to make him the MVP — he’s already got four of them in this game — but he was never far from the centre of attention.
James crouched in his defensive stance and pounded the floor when he found himself covering Bryant out on the wing in the second quarter. But come on, nobody is really here to play defence, at least that early. The West led 92-90 at the break, both teams surpassing the previous record of 89 points in a half.
The game goes back to the US next year, and for the first time since 1997 won’t have Bryant.
He made his All-Star début in New York in 1998, a game also remembered for Michael Jordan’s last with the Chicago Bulls. Jordan, now chairman of the Hornets, was on hand Sunday for a ceremonial passing of the All-Star torch from Toronto to Charlotte, the 2017 host.