Kobe Bryant flirted with one of the best scoring nights in All-Star Game history. LeBron James joined the rarefied air reserved for Michael Jordan. But in the end, it was too much Kevin Durant down the stretch.
Durant scored 14 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter as the Western Conference withstood a furious Eastern Conference fourth quarter run and held on for a 148-143 win in the 2011 All-Star Game.
Kobe Bryant nabbed his fourth All-Star Game MVP by scoring a game-high 37 points and grabbing 14 boards in front of the Staples Center crowd. He tied former St. Louis Hawks F/C Bob Pettit for most All-Star MVP nods.
"It feels great," Bryant told TNT's Ernie Johnson afterward. "Playing at the home court in front of the home crowd. This will be my last All-Star Game in front of the home fans, so it feels good."
Bryant's Western Conference team nearly blew a double-digit fourth quarter lead. After Dwyane Wade was sidelined with an ankle injury, Atlanta Hawks representative Joe Johnson was finally given a chance for extended minutes in this one. He ratcheted up the defensive pressure on Bryant.
With the Atlanta shooting guard posting up on the Los Angeles Lakers superstar and James assisting at times with the double-team, Bryant had just three points in the fourth quarter. Johnson absolutely abused Bryant, stealing the ball and converting with a bucket on the other end of the floor to cut the lead to 137-131 with 3:32 left in the game.
Johnson finished with 11 points, three steals, two rebounds and two assists in 20-plus minutes of action.
The East trailed by as many as 15 midway through the fourth before James lit a fire under the team during a time out. He implored the team to get back into the game. They responded to at least make it close.
"We all want to win," James told TNT's David Aldridge. "Guys know that. You just try to spark up the competitive nature in everybody. I said a few words and tried to spark it up a little bit and guys were like, 'you're right, let's pick it up.'"
The East responded.
Behind a 14 point fourth-quarter from James and 15 in the frame from the New York Knicks' Amare Stoudemire, the Eastern Conference chipped away at the lead, cutting it to 142-140 on a James layup with 1:12 left.
With Johnson in his face, Bryant misfired on the ensuing possession, but teammate Pau Gasol was there for the rebound to extend the West's lead back to four before Chris Paul extended the cushion to 146-140 with a pair of free throws with 18.9 seconds remaining.
Ray Allen followed with a 3-pointer to make it a possession game, but Durant nailed two from the charity stripe with 5.2 ticks left for the final margin of victory.
The West won on their "home" court. Although the question of who would be named the All-Star Game MVP nod was not a fait accompli. Bryant, who finished five points shy of Wilt Chamberlain's All-Star Game record 42 point night in 1962, had some stiff competition for the MVP honor.
James finished with 29 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists to notch the second triple-double in All-Star Game history. Jordan had 14 points, 11 boards and 11 helpers in the 1997 All-Star Game.
Durant helped the West stay ahead in the game with a monster fourth quarter. But in the end, the MVP trophy remained in Tinseltown.
"(Kobe) deserved (the MVP)," Durant told TNT's Craig Sager. "(Scoring) 37 (points) and 14 (rebounds), that's unbelievable numbers. I wanted him to get 40 (points), but the old guy tired out a little bit."
Stoudemire had 29 points, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat chipped in 14 each for the East. Gasol had 17, while Russel Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder added 12 for the Western Conference. Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers finished with eight points, five rebounds and five assists.
Overshadowed amongst the stars was Atlanta's Al Horford, who notched two points, three rebounds and a block in just 10:20 of action. Only the Boston Celtics' Paul Pierce spent less time on the court. He finished with four points in 7:32 of playing time.