CHICAGO — Players were taking charges, bodies were hitting the floor, calls and missed calls were being screamed about on both ends of the basketball court. The fourth quarter of the NBA All-Star Game was as intense as the final moments of a playoff matchup, the biggest names in the league holding absolutely nothing back.
In the end, Anthony Davis was a hometown hero by making a free throw.
Kobe Bryant — ever the competitor — would have simply loved the way this night went.
"That was pretty damn fun," a sweat-soaked, exhausted LeBron James said at the end.
Davis made a game-ending free throw to give Team LeBron a 157-155 win over Team Giannis in the revamped NBA All-Star Game on Sunday night, the format overhauled to put in elements for charity and ensure that someone was going to hit a shot to end the game.
That someone was Davis, the Chicago native who missed the first free throw and made the second to end the NBA's midseason showcase that went down as the closest All-Star Game since the Eastern Conference topped the Western Conference 141-139 in 2010.
Kawhi Leonard, the game's MVP and the first recipient of the trophy now named for Bryant, scored 30 points for Team LeBron, while James — his team's captain — and Chris Paul each scored 23 and Davis finished with 20.
"This one's for him," Leonard said, speaking of Bryant afterward.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, who captained his team, led his squad with 25 points. Kemba Walker had 23 for Team Giannis, Joel Embiid scored 22 and Rudy Gobert added 21.
"I think it was really interesting," said Team Giannis coach Nick Nurse of the NBA champion Toronto Raptors. "It was really fun, each and every quarter, from a coaching standpoint."
The finish was frantic, and then some. James tried a layup that would have put his team one point away — it was blocked by Antetokounmpo, called a goaltend at first but ruled a clean block after review. Team LeBron controlled the resulting jump ball and James tried a 40-footer to end it but missed.
James Harden then had a chance to win it for Team LeBron, and his 3-pointer went in — but it was waved off by Kyle Lowry taking a charge against the NBA's scoring leader. James got a dunk not long afterward to make it 156-153, and Embiid made two free throws to cut Team LeBron's lead to one.
With that, it was next-basket-wins time.
"Really cool," Nurse said.
Davis was fouled on the next trip, got the free throw to win it, and that was that.
"I told my team I was going to miss the first one to put a little more pressure on myself here at home," Davis said.
James' team wore blue jerseys, all with the No. 2 for Gianna Bryant. Antetokounmpo's team wore red, every player wearing No. 24 on the back for Kobe Bryant. And on their right shoulders was a black circular patch with nine stars, one for each victim of the helicopter crash that took the lives of Bryant, his daughter and their seven friends on Jan. 26.
"His presence was felt," James said.
And with the new rules, the teams went at it in the fourth: Antetokounmpo got out to block a shot by James, Lowry took a charge from his former Toronto teammate in Leonard, elbows got up in collisions for rebound positioning, Paul was screaming encouragement to Team LeBron teammates in a timeout — all adding up to an intensity hardly ever seen in All-Star Games.
"To me, probably the best All-Star game ever," Embiid said. "Guys competed, it came down to basically the last shot, but I don't think you should be able to win on a free throw. But overall it was a lot of fun."
It was the first All-Star Game with a new format: The teams played a mini game in each of the first three quarters, the scores starting at 0-0 in each of those periods and the winning team in each one earning $100,000 for their Chicago-area children's charity.
James' team won the first quarter 53-41, and Antetokoumpo's team won the second quarter 51-30.
The third quarter had down-to-the-wire, big-money drama with $100,000 on the line. But the teams finished the quarter tied 41-41, putting $300,000 — the undecided $100,000 from the third and $200,000 more for the win — at stake in the final period.
The cumulative score at that point was Team Giannis 133, Team LeBron 124 going into the untimed fourth quarter — with another new twist. The NBA decided, as part of the series of Bryant tributes, that the winner of the All-Star Game would be the team that added 24 points, a nod to his jersey number, to whatever the leading total score was after three quarters.
That meant the target score was set: 157. The game clock was off. The shot clock stayed on. The stage for drama was perfectly set, and the All-Star Game — oft-maligned in recent years for a lack of competitiveness — was entertaining again.
Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young, no stranger to shooting from very deep, connected on a half-court shot to end the second quarter. An All-Star in his second NBA season, he had 10 points and as many assists while playing for Team Giannis.
Team LeBron tied a single-quarter record with 53 points in the first quarter, James set the record by starting a 16th All-Star Game (breaking a mark he shared with Bryant) and James moved past Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most All-Star minutes in a career.
Leonard's big night
Leonard made it look effortless, nailing one 3-pointer after another — eight in all — and nearly matching an All-Star Game record.
The tough part came afterward. Finding the right words to express how he felt after becoming the first Kobe Bryant MVP Award winner wasn't so easy.
"It's very special," Leonard said. "Like I said, I had a relationship with him. Words can't explain how happy I am for it. Able to put that trophy in my room, in my trophy room, and just be able to see Kobe's name on there, it just means a lot to me. He's a big inspiration in my life. He did a lot for me."
The Los Angeles Clippers star has two NBA finals MVP trophies after helping the San Antonio Spurs and the Raptors win championships.
He was picked for his fourth All-Star team and put on quite a display from the perimeter, with his 3s coming on 14 attempts from behind the arc. Had he made one more, he would have matched Paul George's All-Star record set in 2016. And he appeared to be well on his way to breaking it after a scorching start.
Leonard hit one just seconds into the game. He made all four 3s in the first quarter — the only shots he took while scoring 12 points.
Leonard was 7-of-10 in the first half, only to cool off a bit after that. He missed a step-back 3 that could have won it with his team up 154-153, but was the runaway winner for the game's MVP honors with seven votes. James got three, and Davis and Paul received one apiece.
All that's missing for Leonard now is the league's regular-season MVP award.
"My mindset is always just to try to make my team the best team at the end of the regular season," Leonard said. "And if I'm fortunate enough to win a regular-season MVP, then I'll be happy with it. I always just want to win championships. I'm not really concerned with the personal goal. So I always want to play to win championships."
Leonard could have signed with the Lakers and teamed with James and Davis with Frank Vogel coaching them after leading Toronto to the title last season. Instead, it was a one-night-only affair, with Vogel on the sideline for Team LeBron.
The Clippers are third in the Western Conference behind the Lakers and the Denver Nuggets, five games off the lead. They could cross paths in the playoffs with the team that shares their arena.
For one night, Leonard enjoyed being on the same side.
"It was fun," he said. "I played with Bron and A.D. last year, and I think the year before that or so. But it's always fun just to get around guys that are very competitive, see what they do on an everyday basis.
"Just talking, just being their teammate. We go at each other all year round. And just like I said, it's great to be able to pick their brain and just be around them and joke and laugh."