LOS ANGELES, CA-It shouldn’t come as a surprise that LeBron James would come and visit Los Angeles and shut down the 2018 NBA All-Star Game with his own personal signature stroke to help Team LeBron come away with a highly-competitive 148-145 win against Team Stephen Sunday at Staples Center.
It really shouldn’t have caught anyone off guard that the league’s alpha dogs would drop their friendly fire exchanges after halftime and channel their ultra-competitive side just in time to turn this contest into resembling an actual NBA game instead of a Harlem Globetrotters traveling show.
Defense was not in the building until it mattered. For Team LeBron, those defensive moments came after Team Stephen looked like they were going to run away with the game after going up by 13 points when Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard connected on a 20-foot jump shot. Lillard’s long jumper gave Team Stephen a 133-120 lead with 6:57 left on the clock in the final quarter.
Soon after, Team LeBron put on their defensive hats and put up enough points to come away victorious. James had a big hand in the way everything turned out, including the final possession of the ball game when Golden State megastar Stephen Curry got the ball in hand to potentially tie the game. James and Kevin Durant would have none of that as they bottled up the two-time NBA regular season MVP into a position where he couldn’t get a shot off.
“That was great defense by myself,” Durant said. “I’m patting myself on the back.”
For Curry, who usually find ways to come through with last-second theatrics from long-distance, this night would not evaporate the way he wanted.
“K.D. and ‘Bron, they double teamed me hard and pushed me to the sideline,” Curry said. “Two tall giants out there not letting me shoot, tried to make a play and it just didn’t work out. So that was a tough way for our team to end the game. But I think it was a great show for the fans.”
It was also great for the fans to see James, now an elder statesman in the league, show that he is still far from being done as a player. James’ commanding presence on the basketball court was nowhere more evident than in the fourth quarter where he scored 10 of his game-high 29 points. Known as an astute facilitator, James also came up with three of his eight assists on the game. His final stat line reads: 29 (points), 10 (rebounds) and 8 (assists). It was a most impressive display for the 33-year-old James.
“From my very first All-Star up until now, I just try to get better and better and not only show myself but show my peers and show everybody that I belong,” said James. “It’s always been my fans who voted me in. For 14 straight years, my fans have voted me in as an All-Star starter, and it’s been up to me to go out and let them know and show them, listen, I appreciate that and here’s what I’m going to give to you every time you vote me in.”
Considering all the drama going on around the Cleveland Cavaliers and his future, James made a clear and emphatic statement on the one thing he can control: playing basketball. Rumors about James and his future has swirled from the beginning of the current NBA season. The up-and-down play of the Cavaliers, and the flourish of trades the team made right before the league trade deadline ticked down to zero, has only fueled those rumors.
Those issues were neither or there for James during the 2018 NBA All-Star Game. Getting Team LeBron a win was his priority. That priority came into sharper focus for James and his team during the last seven minutes of the fourth quarter. A step-back, 3-point shot by James tied the game at 144-144 with 1:30 left on the clock. A finger-roll by James gave Team LeBron a 146-145 lead with 34 ticks on the clock.
James then iced the game (sort of) with a sweet assist to Russell Westbrook with just over 10 seconds remaining in regulation. His team-up with Durant to keep Curry from flipping the 3-point switch, only proves that James is still that guy that you’d want in leading a championship run.
“What I take pride in is taking care of my body,” said James in response to a question posed to him about seeing younger players as a challenge and challenging himself. “Taking care of my body, making sure I’m available every night and continue to get better and better. I don’t really take it as a young guy, okay, I need to show him that I’m still able to do this. I need to continue to show myself, you know, because every night I step on the floor I have to lead my guys or prove to myself that I’m still able to play at a high level. I feel great.”