Thousands of fans, including many Hollywood celebrities, piled into the Staples Center on Sunday night to witness the 2018 NBA All-Star Game. Entertainment took center stage. Fans were treated to performances from Ludacris and Pharrell Williams. But the main show was the highlight-reel plays and clutch shots from the NBA’s biggest superstars. At the end of the night, Team LeBron took the victory in a thrilling 145–145 come-from-behind win, with LeBron James taking home the MVP award.
The past several years have provided high-scoring, entertaining action with little defense. For the first time, the league broke away from the familiar East vs. West set-up. Two captains chose their teammates, leading to a Team LeBron James vs. Team Stephen Curry matchup. To encourage more competition, the league also offered charity money and monetary incentives for the players.
The players were all honored to share the spotlight. Kevin Durant reflected on what it means for him to be here. “As a kid, all I wanted to do was be one of the best players that I can be,” Durant said. “I was going to the All-Star weekend when it was in D.C. when I was a seventh grader. When I went, I was listening to the All-Star games on the radio. And when I was growing up, watching the festivities on TV. So to be a part of it is a dream come true.”
About an hour before the game, the players began to shoot around on the court. Highlight reels showing the top ten plays from All-Stars played on the Jumbotron, getting everyone in the stadium hyped for the tip-off. Laser lights, fog machines, and fiery pyrotechnics were in full effect as Kevin Hart introduced this year’s All-Stars.
The game started like any other. Unlike in previous years, the All Stars came out playing solid defense. With no guaranteed points in that paint, the players were able to show off more skills and creativity in scoring.
Defensive rejections also rallied the crowd. Giannis Antetokounmpo made an early statement by racing down the court and hammering away Kemba Walker’s layup attempt. Russell Westbrook later returned the favor, swatting Antetokounmpo’s shot.
Team Steph jumped out to an early 15-point lead by dominating the boards, executing plays, and capitalizing on Team LeBron’s turnovers. Klay Thompson was sharp in the first half, scoring 15 points and shooting 5-9 behind the arc.
There was a different mindset for the players this year. They were playing hard while still enjoying themselves. “I think playing competitively makes it fun,” said DeMar DeRozen. “You want to see that back and forth of the compete level. We’re going to play to win, but we’re going to play to keep everyone safe.”
By halftime, Team LeBron mounted a small comeback and nearly caught up to Team Steph, trailing just 76-78. James led the way with 15 first-half points. Their team distributed the ball well and got solid production from all of their starters.
Back-and-forth action continued throughout the second half. Damian Lillard had the hot hand for Team Steph, finishing the night 9–14 with 21 points. For the same team, DeRozen also scored 21.
Team LeBron was surprisingly out-rebounded 49-68. However, they counter-attacked behind a 19-point performance from Durant and 19 more from the big man, Joel Embiid.
Nearing the end of the fourth quarter, Team Steph rebuilt a commanding 13-point lead. Then Team LeBron got going. Paul George hit a few big threes, and Kyrie Irving got cooking, spreading out the offense. With 34 seconds left in the game, Irving found his former teammate James for the driving layup to put them up by one point.
Team Steph had one final chance to answer back. Down by three, with ten seconds to go, Curry found the ball in his hands. But he was trapped in the corner by smothering defense and couldn’t find a way to create space. So Team LeBron escaped with a narrow victory in a star-studded game. This was what fans wanted to see: hard-fought, competitive basketball that kept everyone on the edge of their seats.
Afterwards, players lingered on the court relishing the moment. James also accepted the All-Star Game MVP award, which he earned by stuffing the stat sheet with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists.
“I think the format was great,” he said. “I think the fans did a great job of reacting to it in a very positive way. It worked out not only for the players, not only for the league, but for our fans, for everybody. It was a great weekend, and we capped it off the right way.”
With the win, the NBA will donate $350,000 on behalf of Team LeBron to After-School All-Stars, a leading provider of afterschool programs for students in low-income schools. And Team Steph’s efforts will send $150,000 to Brotherhood Crusade, an organization supporting underserved youth in South Los Angeles.
The NBA’s community outreach was an important part of the weekend. “It’s incredible when you have the impact off the floor as well—kind of share a great message that can inspire the next generation," Irving said. "We’re all one at the end of the day, so it’s always great.”
The NBA also revealed the logo for next year’s All-Star Game in Charlotte with an unexpected appearance from Michael Jordan. Fans jumped to their feet in a standing ovation, acknowledging the Greatest Of All Time. This moment wrapped up an incredible weekend in Los Angeles. With the success of this new format, and an exciting finish, fans can look forward to more thrilling action next year!
Photograph by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images