Kevin Durant, take a bow. Actually, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant should take a bow, too. The trio of stars more than made up for what had otherwise been a mediocre, embarrassing even, series of events on Saturday night by putting on a show in the 2012 NBA All-Star Game in Orlando, FL on Sunday night.
Durant and James each had 36 points, but Durant was named the MVP -- he's the youngest ever at 23 years old -- as the West topped the East, 152-149, in one of the best All-Star Games in recent memory. Bryant, meanwhile, passed Michael Jordan for the number one spot on the all-time All-Star Game scoring list on a breakaway dunk in the third quarter.
Normally, an all-star game isn't an example of one particular sport being played at its finest level. And while it certainly didn't look that way at the start, Sunday's battle between stars from around the country morphed into exactly that. Though the first half wasn't even close -- the West led by nearly 20 most of the time and held an 88-69 advantage at halftime -- things would turn around.
James and Wade led the East on a furious comeback in the second half, one that saw them cut the West lead down to one point on two occasions. During the comeback stretch, James went toe-to-toe with another young great in Durant, providing a glimpse of what may be in store for NBA fans come summer time.
(A quick aside -- obviously, we all want the Boston Celtics to make it back to the NBA Finals and win that 18th banner. Let's be real, though. It's likely not going to happen. So if we can't have our Celtics in the Finals, why not root for the next best thing -- a James and Durant matchup. Celtics fans aren't too keen on James for good reason. As a basketball fan, though, the thought of a LeBron vs. Durant Finals makes me giddy. What a battle that would be. Again, next best option.)
What James and Durant did down the stretch was really enjoyable. Up and down the court faster than you could believe, the league's two premier players set out on a mission to prove their dominance, and it inspired the play of their fellow All-Stars around them. The final 12 minutes in the All-Star Game was basketball at its finest.
Usually, the All-Stars fool around in the first half and get down to business in the second. But this one felt different. True, they followed that same format, but this year's finish featured a lot more passionate play than in previous All-Star tilts. Again, the greatness of LeBron and Durant flowed into their teammates. We even had defense being played in the closing minutes.
More importantly, their performance was a great way to cap off a weekend that, up to that point, had been pretty bad. Sure, the Rising Stars Challenge was alright. Kyrie Irving showed the world what he could do, and we had our fair share of Lob City and Linsanity.
But when Saturday rolled around, expectations hit the floor. Going in, fans didn't hope for much out of the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest, the signature event of All-Star Saturday Night and once the most fun event of the entire weekend. That's not a good sign, and it certainly wasn't good when it underperformed expectation. Jeremy Evans had a few nice (but previously executed) dunks and did enough to win in a bad field, but nobody blew the doors down. That's due in part to the fact that the dunk contest featured a bunch of nobodies.
Ironically, the same problem that was created by the absence of players like James, Durant and Bryant was solved by them. Graciously, our lasting memory of this February weekend will be the battle between James and Durant instead of botched dunks from Derrick Williams.
Like 'em or hate 'em, basketball fans should thank King James and Durantula for that, at the least.