Westbrook upstages Kobe

Above: Cleveland Cavaliers’ East star LeBron James is unable to block a shot by the West’s Kobe Bryant in the All-Star Game in Toronto.
Above: Cleveland Cavaliers’ East star LeBron James is unable to block a shot by the West’s Kobe Bryant in the All-Star Game in Toronto.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
NBA legend Magic Johnson playfully patting retiring Laker Bryant before the game at Air Canada Centre.
NBA legend Magic Johnson playfully patting retiring Laker Bryant before the game at Air Canada Centre.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Pau Gasol of the Chicago Bulls and Bryant having fun off the court late in the game.
Pau Gasol of the Chicago Bulls and Bryant having fun off the court late in the game.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
MVP Russell Westbrook dunking in the first quarter.
MVP Russell Westbrook dunking in the first quarter. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Thunder guard grabs MVP title for 2nd year running, edging out retiring Bryant & George

TORONTO • Russell Westbrook took a little bit of the focus away from West team-mate and retiring great Kobe Bryant's final National Basketball Association All-Star Game appearance, when the Oklahoma City Thunder guard claimed Most Valuable Player honours for a second straight year on Sunday.

Westbrook scored 31 points in the Western Conference's record-shattering 196-173 victory to become the first player to win solo back-to-back most valuable player awards in the 65-season history of the high-profile showcase event.

There was speculation that Bryant would be named MVP for sentimental reasons and Eastern Conference team leader Paul George made a case for himself with 41 points - just short of the All-Star single-game record of 42 points set by Wilt Chamberlain in 1962 .

But Westbrook nailed a bunch of key three-pointers in the second half to lead the West to victory.

"Any time you can be in the history books, it always means something," the shocked Thunder guard told reporters. "I'm just thankful to be able to play the game of basketball and to be in a game like this is something that I never take for granted."

SOMETHING SPECIAL

It's a great moment to be able to sit back and just chat with a guy like that. You embrace all those moments.''

RUSSELL WESTBROOK, who enjoyed being around Kobe Bryant the whole All-Star weekend.

At the Air Canada Centre, where the annual exhibition was being held outside US borders for the first time, soaring dunks and long-range bombs all added up to unprecedented numbers.

The 369 total points were an All-Star Game record - 48 more than the record set last year - as was the West's 196 total and their 104 points in the second half.

The West made a record 31 three- pointers - including seven apiece from Westbrook and James Harden and six from Stephen Curry.

In a free-wheeling offensive showcase, Los Angeles Lakers superstar Bryant scored a modest 10 points in his 18th and final turn as an All-Star before he retires at the end of his 20th season.

He was at least the centre of attention at a pre-game ceremony emceed by Lakers great Magic Johnson, with two video montages celebrating his career.

Toronto already had some significance to the 37-year-old. In 2006, he scored a career-best 81 points in a victory over the visiting Raptors.

"I just want to thank you guys for all your support all these years," Bryant told the "Ko-be!" chanting crowd. "I've just been extremely fortunate to play the game I love and be in the NBA for over half my life."

The pre-game ovation for Bryant extended to fellow players and coaches.

"It's like the passing of a generation," said San Antonio Spurs and West coach Gregg Popovich. "He's been such an iconic figure for so long, and he passes it on to that other group of young guys that you saw out there tonight."

Westbrook enjoyed being around the Lakers guard all weekend.

"I think everybody in the whole arena, whole room, definitely aspired to see Kobe Bryant in his last game," Westbrook added. "Being able to talk to him and get knowledge and just hear him talking about different things he's done for himself, for the game, his family. It's a great moment to be able to sit back and just chat with a guy like that. You embrace all those moments."

For George, his performance also served notice that he has fully recovered from the compound fracture he suffered in his right leg during the American training camp for the 2014 Fiba World Cup 18 months ago. His nine three-pointers was an All-Star Game record.

"It's really special," the Indiana Pacers forward said. "I had a hard-fought summer, hard-fought rehab year. It was just a very upward climb.

"It took every day and really every moment of rehab to get through it. There were a lot of days where I felt I like I was down and out, but I just stayed with it."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2016, with the headline 'Westbrook upstages Kobe'. Print Edition | Subscribe