ATLANTA: Even in the strangest NBA All-Star Game of them all, LeBron James was still the perfect captain.
Team LeBron showed off its high-flying and long-range skills during a dominating run to close out the first half, setting up a 170-150 romp over Team Durant in the league’s 70th midseason showcase Sunday (Monday in Manila).
This one sure was different than the previous 69 All-Star contests.
Determined to pull off an exhibition that is huge for TV revenue and the league’s worldwide brand, the NBA staged the game in a mostly empty arena in downtown Atlanta, a made-for-TV extravaganza that was symbolic of the coronavirus era.
Even with intense safety protocols in place, two players didn’t even make it to tipoff. Philadelphia stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were ruled out because they got haircuts from a barber who tested positive for Covid-19.
But once the game began, it fell right in line with the three previous All-Star outings with the captain format. The top vote-getters in each conference pick the teams, a duty that James has earned all four years.
He’s now 4-0, having defeated Stephen Curry’s squad in 2018 and teams selected by Milwaukee’s two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo the last two years.
This time, James drafted his two former adversaries to assemble a dominant squad that blew away Kevin Durant’s team.
Antetokounmpo was the game MVP after shooting 16 of 16 for 35 points. Curry chipped in with 28 points, while Damian Lillard had 32. James spent most of the night admiring his drafting skill, playing less than 13 minutes and finishing with four points.
The only good thing for Durant: He didn’t have to participate in this shellacking, sitting out the game with an ailing hamstring.
Bradley Beal led Team Durant with 26 points.
On a night highlighting Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Team LeBron swept the first three quarters and was first to reach the final target score, earning a total of $750,000 for its charity, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
The game got out of hand late in the second quarter.
With scant defense being played, Team LeBron took turns dunking off alley-oop passes. Chris Paul delivered back-to-back lobs that Lillard and Curry slammed through. Then, it was Paul on the receiving end of a payback pass from Curry.