Durant scored a team-high 31 points for Team LeBron, helping to lead his team of All-Stars back from a 20-point deficit in a 178-164 win over Team Giannis and winning All-Star MVP for the second time in his career.
Future Hall of Famers Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade went out in style in their All-Star swan song, and Wade said he was more than content with it. “The game is in good hands,” Wade said. “So it’s easy to walk away right now.”
Durant, who last won the award in 2012, shot 10-for-15 from the floor (6-for-9 from 3) as Team LeBron set a new All-Star record for most made 3s in a game with 35.
“We just didn’t want to lose,” Durant told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols after accepting the MVP trophy on the court after the game. “We know we had a lot of talent over there that can do multiple things. We just wanted to turn it up a bit on the defensive side. I think the group closed the third quarter really changed the game for us. It is fun being around such greatness. Seeing how these guys operate on the day to day. I’ll miss my time here.”
He added 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks as LeBron James improved to 2-0 as a captain since the NBA All-Star Game changed to a draft format last year. Durant paid off as James’ No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
“It’s all sweet to me,” Durant said when asked to compare the award to his other career accomplishments. “I mean, it’s hard to rank. Everything’s special. But it’s cool to be out there with some of the best players to ever play the game, and to win an MVP here in front of my family and friends is pretty sweet. I just keep trying to rack them up, I guess.”
The 11-year veteran’s trophy case is getting mighty crowded these days after taking home back-to-back NBA Finals MVP awards for the Golden State Warriors’ championships the last two years.
Durant, who is not expected to opt in to the final year of his contract, worth $31.5 million, with the Warriors and instead test free agency this summer, was asked if there were any teammates in particular he enjoyed playing with on Team LeBron.
Several of his teammates — Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson — are also expected to test free agency this summer. James’ team, the Los Angeles Lakers, will have the salary cap space to sign a max free agent of Durant’s caliber.
“Every one of them,” Durant said, not offering any clues. “I think every one of these guys, you can relate to them on a different level. A lot of these guys come from the same background and same circumstances, so you relate to them on a different level. All our skills match with each other. So you’ve got guys that can play four positions out there. So you don’t mind sitting in the corner waiting for the ball to come to you for a 3.
“So you don’t really have to do too much when you’re playing with so many great players. You can do what you’re just best at.”
Durant went 4-for-4 from the field (3-for-3 from 3) in the fourth quarter as Team LeBron pulled away.
At halftime, with Team LeBron trailing by 13 points, James asked coach Mike Malone if he and his teammates could leave the locker room to see rapper J. Cole perform his halftime set out on the court.
“I said, listen, I’ll let you go watch the concert if you promise to get your ass back in transition,” Malone said. “LeBron made my words known, they watched the concert, and they came out and played great.”
Team LeBron allowed 69 points in the second half after giving up 95 points in the first two quarters.
“Coach Malone said the record [for points allowed] is 194, and we don’t want to get that put on us,” Durant said, revealing another motivation tactic of the Denver Nuggets’ coach. “So I think guys just buckled down and wanted to win after a while.”
Curry, who played for Team Giannis, scored 17 points on 6-for-23 shooting (4-for-17 from 3), adding nine rebounds and seven assists.
Damian Lillard, who scored nine of his 18 points in the third quarter to aid in the comeback alongside Durant, was asked to assess Durant’s performance considering how much he has been in the news this season — from commenting that stars didn’t want to play alongside James to sniping at a reporter for speculating he could join the New York Knicks this summer.
“I don’t think the news had anything to do with it,” Lillard said. “I think we all know the kind of player he is. Down the stretch of this game, he’s hitting big shot after big shot. I think that’s the most important thing. We know he’s a very, very high-level basketball player, and from being around him, you see that he’s just a regular dude. He comes off pretty genuine to me.
“So I think you hear people saying stuff about he’s sensitive and all those types of things, but you also want a genuine person. So I think people got to choose. But that’s the way he comes off to me when I’ve been around him.”