Playing in front of a partisan crowd on his home turf at the Staples Center, the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant delivered a record-tying performance en route to capturing his fourth MVP award by dropping 37 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Western Conference to a 148-143 win over the East in the NBA All-Star Game.
"It feels great, being at home here and playing in front of the home crowd," Bryant said after receiving the MVP trophy. "This will be my last All-Star game in front of these home fans, so it feels good to do it."
Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant, one of the league's rising young stars and current scoring leader, dropped in 34 points, teaming with Bryant to become only the second pair of All-Star teammates to score 30 or more points in one of the mid-season matchups. Bob MacAdoo and Juilus "Dr. J" Erving scored 30 a piece in the 1977 game.
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Miami's LeBron James led the East, scoring 29 points and adding 12 rebounds and 10 assists, becoming the only player besides Michael Jordan to net a triple-double in the All Star game. The Knicks' Amare Stoudemire also chipped in 29 points and James' teammate, 2010 game MVP Dwyane Wade, posted 14 points before leaving the game due to injury.
The Denver Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony, the subject of intense trade talks all weekend, scored eight points in what might be his final appearance as a member of the Western Conference. Both the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets have put forth significant offers and the general consensus is that Anthony will probably be playing in the Big Apple soon.
"At times, it can be tough, but it's fun at the same time," Anthony said of the swirling rumors before the game started. "During this weekend I'm still having fun."
While hearing some of the usual "MVP! MVP! chants he's usually serenaded with at Staples Center, Bryant tied Bob Pettit's record for All-Star game honors. He was scoreless for the final 6:48, but Lakers teammate Pau Gasol had a big basket to help the West hold on.
Gasol scored 17 points, helping the West hold on against an East team featuring a combined seven players from Boston and Miami, considered two of the biggest threats to end the Lakers' reign.
The exhibition game had a bit of a finals feel with the presence of a record-tying four players from the rival Celtics.
Paul Pierce -- who grew up in nearby Inglewood -- and Kevin Garnett received the heaviest boos during the starting lineups. Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo were also here from the group that lost Game 7 on this floor last June and would love another chance to come take the title back.
East coach Doc Rivers sent his four players out together midway through the first quarter to loud boos that usually provide the soundtrack of June in Los Angeles. They quickly turned to cheers when Allen threw up an airball on his first shot attempt.
Bryant denied gaining extra motivation from seeing the two rivals, both of whom already won at Staples Center this season. But he was clearly into the game from the start, driving for a couple of strong dunks or knocking down jumpers when defenders gave him room.
The crowd of entertainers included Beyonce and Jay-Z, Sean "Diddy" Combs, Jack Nicholson, Stevie Wonder, John Legend and Justin Bieber -- who was called Justin "Berber" by the public address announcer while mentioning the teen star's MVP performance in the celebrity game on Friday.
Perhaps trying too hard to impress the stars surrounding them, there were errant passes and shaky shooting in the early minutes. The West got it right in the final minute of the first quarter, with rookie star Blake Griffin of the Clippers catching an alley-oop pass from Deron Williams for one of his powerful dunks -- though not quite the degree of difficulty as his slam while leaping over the hood of a car Saturday to win the dunk contest.
The game was a welcome diversion from the Anthony talk and the troubling labor situation that threatens the league. Next year's game is scheduled for Orlando, but nobody can be sure it will be played. The owners and players' association met Friday to discuss a new collective bargaining agreement to replace the one that expires June 30. Though it was described as a positive meeting, there was also no progress made, and the sides have a significant gap to close in order to prevent a work stoppage.
And it was a welcome break for Lakers fans, whose defending two-time champions stumbled into the weekend with three losses in a row.
They'll be all right if Bryant is as sharp in the spring as he was Sunday.
Chris Bosh scored 14 points, Allen had 12, and Derrick Rose and Joe Johnson finished with 11 apiece for the East.
Following a pregame performance by rocker Lenny Kravitz a tandem talc toss by James and the rest of the East starters, Bryant scored 11 points in the first quarter. The West led 76-64 at halftime.
Russell Westbrook, who played at UCLA, scored 12 points and Chris Paul added 10 for the West.