With the Western Conference All-Stars nursing an eight-point lead late in the fourth quarter, Kobe Bryant fought around a screen and swatted LeBron James going to his left at the peak of his jump shot.
The block led to an easy dunk for Kevin Durant on the other end, extending their lead to double digits. Minutes later, Bryant pressured James 90 feet up the court along the left sideline, then blocked his shot attempt as he rose up from just outside the paint.
Bryant’s defense in the final minutes allowed the West to pull away from the East and win 143-138 – their third straight victory over their counterparts.
“Just taking the challenge and defending a little bit,” he said postgame. “When the game gets close, it’s fun. I enjoy it.”
Starting in an NBA-record 15th All-Star game, Bryant finished with nine points, eight assists, two steals and two blocks in 28 minutes. The Philly native played the role of facilitator early, recording seven assists in 14 first-half minutes, while attempting just five field goals towards five points. In the fourth quarter, though, he attacked on one particular play, crossing over Miami’s Chris Bosh, while laying in the ball off the glass going to his right.
Lakers center Dwight Howard, in his seventh All-Star appearance, played 14 minutes, but grabbed a team-high seven rebounds to go along with nine points. He scored off three dunks while also drilling a 3-pointer in the third quarter. Of more importance, the big man managed to keep his shoulder and back healthy.
James recently became the first player in NBA history to record at least 30 points and shoot 60 percent from the floor in six straight games, a streak that was snapped on Thursday vs. Oklahoma City before All-Star weekend. On this night, though, Bryant’s defense helped limit the three-time MVP to 7 for 18 from the floor towards 19 points.
Asked what his favorite part of this particular game, the five-time NBA champion responded: “Defending at the end. Just the challenge of doing what everybody deems impossible. That’s the fun part.”