Still perfect: Team LeBron wins 2021 NBA All-Star Game

 

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of Team James is presented the MVP award after his team defeated Team Durant in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Stephen Curry #30 and Lebron James #23 of Team James react during the first half against Team Durant in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Luka Doncic #77 of Team James is defended by Kyrie Irving #11 of Team Durant in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • James Harden #13 of Team Durant and Chris Paul #3 of Team James battle for the ball during the first half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • James Harden #13 of Team Durant handles the ball on offense against Team James during the first half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Zach LaVine #8 of Team Durant is defended by Chris Paul #3 of Team James during the first half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Nikola Vucevic #9 of Team Durant attempts a jump shot against Team James during the first half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Donovan Mitchell #45 of Team Durant is defended by Jaylen Brown #7 and Chris Paul #3 of Team James during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of Team James attempts a jump shot against Team Durant during the first half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Kawhi Leonard #2 of Team Durant looks on against Team James in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Zach LaVine #8 of Team Durant attempts a lay up against Team James during the first half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Lebron James #23 of Team James reacts against Team Durant in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Donovan Mitchell #45 of Team Durant is defended by Jaylen Brown #7 of Team James during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Chris Paul #3 of Team James is defended by Kyrie Irving #11 of Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Adam Silver Commissioner of the NBA looks on during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of Team James drives to the basket against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Stephen Curry #30 of Team James attempts a three point basket against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry celebrates after scoring during the first half of basketball’s NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta, Sunday, March 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Head coach Doc Rivers of Team LeBron looks on against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of Team James and Jayson Tatum #0 of Team Durant battle for the ball during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of Team James and Jayson Tatum #0 of Team Durant battle for the ball during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry plays during the first half of basketball’s NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta, Sunday, March 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

  • Damian Lillard #0 of Team James attempts a lay up against Kyrie Irving #11 of Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Bradley Beal (L) of Team Durant dunks the ball during the 70th NBA All-Star Game against team LeBron James at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia on March 7, 2021. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

  • Bradley Beal #3 of Team Durant reacts against Team James during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Paul George #13 of Team LeBron handles the ball on offense against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving guards Indiana Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis during the first half of basketball’s NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta, Sunday, March 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

  • LeBron James of Team LeBron James attemps to dunk the ball during the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia on March 7, 2021. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James smiles during the first half of basketball’s NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta, Sunday, March 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

  • Head coach Doc Rivers of Team Durant speaks with his team during the second half against Team James in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving dunks during the second half of basketball’s NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta, Sunday, March 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

  • Rudy Gobert (C) of Team LeBron James dunks the ball during the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia on March 7, 2021. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 and Nikola Jokic #15 of Team LeBron celebrate against Team Durant during the first half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Zach LaVine of Team Durant drives to the basket during the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia on March 7, 2021. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

  • Bradley Beal (R) of Team Durant drives to the basket as teammate Kawhi Leonard (L) and Nikola Jokic of Team LeBron James look on during the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia on March 7, 2021. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

  • Damian Lillard #0 of Team James against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Damian Lillard #0 of Team James celebrates against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James celebrates during the first half of basketball’s NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta, Sunday, March 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

  • Kyrie Irving (L) of Team Durant drives to the basket during the 70th NBA All-Star Game against team LeBron James at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia on March 7, 2021. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

  • Damian Lillard of Team LeBron James dunks the ball during the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia on March 7, 2021. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Damian Lillard #0 of Team James celebrates against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Zach LaVine (L) of Team Durant drives to the basket during the 70th NBA All-Star Game against team LeBron James at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia on March 7, 2021. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

  • Rudy Gobert (2nd R) of Team LeBron James attemps a shot against Team Durant during the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia on March 7, 2021. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Kawhi Leonard #2 of Team Durant handles the ball against Team LeBron during the first half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Rudy Gobert (C) of Team LeBron James holds to the ball against Team Durant during the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia on March 7, 2021. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

  • Stephen Curry (R) of Team LeBron James is defended by Kyrie Irving (C) of Team Duncan during the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia on March 7, 2021. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Kawhi Leonard #2 of Team Durant is introduced prior to the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: A general view of State Farm Arena during the 70th NBA All-Star Game between Team LeBron and Team Durant on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Gladys Knight performs the national anthem prior to the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Lebron James #23 of Team LeBron stands for the national anthem prior to the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Lebron James #23 of Team LeBron is introduced prior to the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Jayson Tatum #0 of Team Durant is defended by Nikola Jokic #15 of Team LeBron during the first half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Lebron James #23 of Team LeBron dunks the ball against Team Durant in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of Team LeBron handles the ball on offense against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of Team LeBron celebrates a basket against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of Team LeBron celebrates a basket against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Lebron James #23 of Team LeBron celebrates against Team Durant during the first half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Donovan Mitchell #45 of Team Durant is defended by Jaylen Brown #7 and Chris Paul #3 of Team LeBron during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Kyrie Irving #11 of Team Durant dunks the ball against Team LeBron during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Rudy Gobert #27 of Team LeBron attempts a lay up against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Luka Doncic #77 of Team LeBron attempts a jump shot against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Donovan Mitchell #45 of Team Durant is defended by Jaylen Brown #7 of Team LeBron during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Stephen Curry #30 of Team LeBron is defended by Kyrie Irving #11 of Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Stephen Curry #30 of Team James celebrates against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of Team James is presented the MVP award after his team defeated Team Durant in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo hols up the trophy after basketball’s NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta, Sunday, March 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of Team LeBron plays with his son, Liam Charles Antetokounmpo, prior to the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • New York Knicks center Julius Randle gets a hug from his son Kyden during basketball’s NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta, Sunday, March 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

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ATLANTA — In the midst of a pandemic, this was assured of being an NBA All-Star Game like no other.

The stands were mostly empty. The crowd noise was largely piped in. There were no A-list celebrities sitting courtside. Two players had to sit out after getting haircuts.

But in the end, it had a familiar feel.

Team LeBron won again.

Knocking down shots from all over the court, LeBron James’ powerhouse squad closed the first half with a dominating run to set up a 170-150 romp over Team Durant in the league’s 70th midseason showcase Sunday night.

The top vote-getters in each conference have picked the teams the last four years, a duty that James has earned every season.

He’s now 4-0, having defeated Steph Curry’s squad in 2018 and teams selected by Milwaukee’s two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo the previous two years.

This time, James drafted his two former adversaries and blew away Kevin Durant’s team.

“I think he’s got a future as a GM,” said Damian Lillard, another of James’ inspired selections. “He always gets it right.”

Antetokounmpo was the game’s MVP after shooting 16 of 16 for 35 points, even making all three of his attempts beyond the 3-point stripe. It was the most baskets without a miss in All-Star Game history.

“I’m just having fun,” the Greek star, who banked in several of his shots. “Sometimes when you’re having fun and not thinking about the outcome, you just let your instincts take over.”

“You know, usually it is closed (on Sundays),” Antetokounmpo said, smiling when asked about the bank-shots, “but for me, it was open extended hours.”

Curry chipped in with 28 points, while Lillard had 32.

James spent most of the night admiring his drafting skill from the bench. The Lakers star played less than 13 minutes, scored just four points, and didn’t return to the court in the second half.

Instead, he munched a snack on the bench.

“I know he was managing his minutes tonight,” Curry said. “We had a great time, representing him as captain. It was a memorable night for sure.”

It sure was for Curry, the Golden State star who won the 3-point competition beforehand, then went 8 for 16 from beyond the arc in the game.

Lillard matched him, also going 8 for 16 from beyond the arc.

This All-Star Game sure was different than the previous 69.

Determined to pull off an exhibition that is huge for TV revenue and the league’s worldwide brand, the league staged the game in a mostly empty downtown arena, a made-for-TV extravaganza that was symbolic of the coronavirus era.

Despite extensive 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.

The only good thing for Durant: He didn’t have to participate in this shellacking, sitting out the game with an ailing hamstring.

Washington’s Bradley Beal, the NBA’s leading scorer this season at 32.9 ppg, led Team Durant with 26 points.

On a night highlighting Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Team LeBron swept the first three quarters and cruised to 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.

After showing it could handle shots up close, Team LeBron headed outside in the final seconds of the half.

Lillard pulled up for a 3-pointer from the midcourt line. Not to be outdone, Curry knocked down one from virtually the same spot.

“It was a lot of fun,” Lillard said. “Me and Steph shoot a lot of 3s. We shoot deep 3s. It was 3, 3, 3, 3, 3.”

The Clippers’ Paul George had 17 points for Team LeBron, going 5 for 7 from 3-point range in 26 minutes. His Clippers teammate, Kawhi Leonard, had eight points, nine rebounds and eight assists in 20 minutes for Team Durant.

Amid the joyful moments, the atmosphere at State Farm Arena was downright eerie compared to a normal All-Star Game.

Instead of a packed house, with A-list celebrities crammed into prime courtside seats, this game was attended by a smattering of hand-picked guests. They had plenty of room to spread out in a 17,000-seat venue that was essentially transformed into a giant television studio, with socially distanced spectators kept far from the court.

Towering video screens were set up behind the benches. Vegas-style lights flashed around the arena. Recorded crowd noise blared over the sound system. The entertainment was provided by the host Atlanta Hawks, who didn’t have any players in the game but were represented by their cheerleaders, drum line and DJ.

To address fears that one of its biggest events would become a super-spreader for a virus that has killed more than a half-million Americans, the NBA pared down its usual weekend-long ritual of extravagant parties, gridlocked streets and people watching

This All-Star Game was a one-night-only event, with a pair of skill competitions held shortly before the game and the Dunk Contest squeezed into the halftime break. The players flew in Saturday afternoon and were largely confined to a nearby hotel except for their time on the court.

“This is when everyone in basketball all over the world comes to one city,” James said before the game. “We’re able to sit back and go, ‘Wow, this is the game we have built.’ It’s a beautiful weekend for all walks of life, on the floor and off the floor.

“But I’m sitting here in my hotel room, isolated. My family’s not here. I’m by myself. It’s just different, to say the least, compared to previous years.”

TIP-INS

Team Durant: Zion Williamson of New Orleans started the game in place of Embiid. The Pelicans forward had 10 points. … Durant’s team heaved up 72 3-pointers, but made only 27 (37.5%).

Team LeBron: Paul had 16 assists, passing Magic Johnson’s record for most career All-Star assists with 128. … Lillard ended the game with another long 3-pointer. Curry was waving to the spectators before it even went in. … James’ team shot 63.6% from the field, including 31 for 61 from 3-point range.

UP NEXT

The 71st All-Star Game will be held on Feb. 20, 2022 in Cleveland. The 2023 game is set for Salt Lake City, followed by Indianapolis in 2024.

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