Kobe Bryant said his NBA All-Star Game goodbye 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 U.S. was the highest-scoring ever, with both teams scoring more than any team had ever managed. Bryant didn’t provide much of the offense but many of the memories.
“To see him now, it’s like the passing of a generation,” West coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s been such an iconic figure for so long, and he passes it on to that other group of young guys that you saw out there tonight.”
Bryant 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 consecutive 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.
A video message from Dr. James Naismith, the Canadian who invented basketball in the early 1890s, was followed by player introductions by 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 30 million 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 center voted to the starting lineup – and each East starter took a turn early covering Bryant.
Toronto hosted the very first NBA game on Nov. 1, 1946. Neither Naismith nor anyone who saw that game would recognize 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 real 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 center 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 defense, 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 U.S. next year, and for the first time since 1997 won’t have Bryant. He made his All-Star debut 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.
Paul finished with 14 points and 16 assists and is the leader in All-Star assists per game. DeMar DeRozan scored 18 points for the East and Kyle Lowry had 14 points and 10 assists as both Raptors played well in front of their home crowd.
“I think everybody got the feel of the energy that we witness every single night when we play as Raptors players,” DeRozan said. “I think all the guys really got insight on how in tune the city of Toronto and all of Canada is to basketball.”
Westbrook became the first player to win consecutive MVP awards outright. Bob Pettit won the 1958 award and shared it the next year with Elgin Baylor.