It was a celebration of basketball worthy of a city that parties like no other.
And the actual game was pretty good, too.
Wrapped around a night a great music, beautifully flashy limited-edition basketball shoes and a special moment for NBA legend Bill Russell, the East All-Stars defeated the West All-Stars 163-155 at New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center on Sunday. The game capped a grand weekend in one of the nation’s most culturally unique cities, and set the stage for what could be an exciting finish to the regular season for the Miami Heat.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh participated in their fourth All-Star Game together as Heat teammates.
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James, a 10-time All-Star, finished with 22 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Dwyane Wade, also playing in his 10th All-Star Game, returned from injury to make his ninth consecutive start in the exhibition game. He had 10 points, one rebound and three assists. Bosh, a nine-time all-star, had five points and two rebounds in 10 minutes.
After the game, the Heat’s All-Stars flew to Dallas, where the regular season will resume and Miami’s push to overtake the Pacers in the East standings will begin in earnest. The Heat trails the Pacers by 2 1/2 games with 30 games remaining on the schedule. Wade’s health for the final third of the season will be one of the major storylines for the defending back-to-back champion.
Wade played 12 minutes of All-Star action — six minutes per half — after requesting a limited role in the days before the game. He sat out his last two games before the All-Star break and has missed 15 games this season, mostly to rest his right knee. Most recently, Wade missed last Wednesday’s game against Golden State with numbness in his foot.
While Wade played fewer minutes than any other starter, his court time was encouraging and memorable, and not just because his feet featured arguably the night’s most fashionable pair of sneakers. He was 5 of 6 from the field shooting and helped the East build an early lead.
Carmelo Anthony’s eighth three-pointer of the game gave the East a 159-155 lead with 1:01 to play. Anthony finished with 30 points, going 10 of 18 from the field and 8 of 3 from three-point range. His three-point total set an All-Star Game record. The West All-Stars were led by Blake Griffin (38 points) and Kevin Durant (38 points).
James’ layup with 43 seconds to play gave the East a six-point lead.
The West led by 18 points in the third quarter but the East cut that lead to 126-123 entering the fourth quarter. Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving led the comeback, scoring nine points in the third period. He finished with 31 points, five rebounds and 14 assists, and was named the MVP of the game. His 10th assist of the night went to a cutting James, who then threw down one of his signature Tomahawk dunks with 8:40 left in the third quarter.
The West led 89-76 at halftime. James had 12 points, three assists and a rebound at the break and Bosh three points and a rebound in seven minutes. Bosh’s biggest contribution to All-Star weekend came on Saturday when he went 2 of 2 on half-court shots during the Shooting Stars Competition. Bosh’s team of Swin Cash and Dominique Wilkins have won the competition two years in a row.
The first half was highlighted by a touching moment between the first and second quarters when Magic Johnson led the entire arena in signing Russell a happy birthday. Russell, who turned 80 years old on Feb. 12, was seated courtside. After the song, Johnson asked every all-star to walk over and shake Russell’s hand.
But the music was truly the star of the night. Musician Pharrell Williams performed with a host of rappers during player introductions. It was easily one of the best build-ups to an All-Star Game in the 63-year history of the event. Busta Rhymes, Nelly, Snoop Lion and Diddy took the stage with Williams and delivered some of their best hits. In between the acts, the East and West All-Stars took the court and enjoyed the concert along with fans.
Even the National Anthem was a hit with a guitarist Gary Clark Jr. delivering a bluesy version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The halftime show was just as polished. Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue opened the performance and singer Janelle Monae performed with Earth, Wind and Fire for the grand finale.
Did Kobe Bryant watch Saturday’s dunk contest?
“Yeah, no, I’ve been following the Sochi Games,” Bryant said. “Every single day I’ve been watching it, marveling at those athletic accomplishments. I’ve been watching virtually every single sport.
“My mission actually yesterday was trying to figure out the rules of curling as I was watching the sport of curling, and I failed miserably, but it was still fun to watch.”
Bryant, missed the All-Star Game with a knee injury, but attended the game, stood for player introductions and met with reporters beforehand. He said rehabilitation for his injury is “coming along slowly.”
“I’m optimistic coming out of the break that I will have some improvements, once I get back to L.A. and do a couple follow-ups and then go from there. But it’s been a slow process.”