East All-Stars 122, West All-Stars 120
As the NBA All-Star Game came down to an MVP showdown in the final seconds, LeBron James got the upper hand on Tracy McGrady.
James scored 29 points, fueled a second-half comeback and disrupted McGrady's potential tying jumper as the Eastern Conference rallied for a 122-120 victory over the Western Conference in the 55th annual midseason showcase.
There was plenty of individual brilliance, led by James, the superstar swingman of the Cleveland Cavaliers who at 21 years old became the youngest All-Star MVP.
"He has a chance to maybe be the best ever to lace them up," said Detroit guard Chauncey Billups, who joined his Pistons teammates in sparking the second-half comeback. "At 21 years old right now, and doing what he's doing ... I mean, the kid should be a junior in college."
"The MVP was never in my mind," James said. "Just winning the ballgame was."
However, that would not have happened had the East not received some team play and defense, uncharacteristic for an All-Star Game, but provided by the quartet of the league-leading Pistons.
James spoiled the fun for McGrady, who appeared to rediscover his joy for the game in front of the hometown crowd at the Toyota Center and scored 36 points, nearly capturing MVP honors. But he came up one basket short.
"They (teammates) were doing their best to give me the ball at every opportunity down the court, free me up and give me shots," McGrady said. "It (MVP) was there if we would have won the game."
The West wasted a 21-point third-quarter lead and trailed, 117-107, after a follow dunk by James with 3:29 remaining. McGrady fueled a final surge with a free throw, 3-pointer and alley-oop hoop.
A driving dunk and tough fadeaway jumper by Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant around a miss by James pulled the West into a 120-120 tie with 32 seconds to play. Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson missed an elbow jumper, but Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade snatched the rebound and hit a floater in the lane for the winning basket with 16.6 seconds remaining.
"I was just doing what we always do and followed it up," said Wade, who made 9-of-11 shots.
The West went to McGrady, who rose for a jumper from the right wing but appeared to be hit on the arm by James. The airball was batted around and went to Bryant, who lost control to the East. Time expired as New Jersey's Vince Carter missed an alley-oop dunk on the other end.
"On his way up, I got a piece of his arm and a piece of the ball," said James, who made 12-of-21 shots. "I guess it was a great defensive play."
Asked if he was fouled, McGrady said, "Yes. Absolutely yes."
Wade scored 20 points, Heat teammate Shaquille O'Neal added 17 and Iverson 12 for the East, which has won the last two meetings and holds a 35-20 lead in the all-time series.
Billups had 15 points and seven assists as one of four Pistons off the East's bench. When they returned in tandem in the third quarter, they continued the comeback and flashed some of their trademark defense to hold the West to 50 second-half points.
San Antonio's Tim Duncan scored 15 points, Phoenix's Shawn Marion added 14 and Elton Brand of the Los Angeles Clippers 12 for the West, which made just 4-of-26 3-pointers - all by McGrady. Bryant was 0-of-5 from beyond the arc and Seattle's Ray Allen was 0-of-7.
McGrady, who has been bothered by unspecified personal issues, appeared to put his problems aside. He scored 17 points in the first half and nine more in the first four minutes of the third period, posting an MVP pace.
"This was just an opportunity for me to have peace of mind and just go out and have some fun," said McGrady, who made 15-of-26 shots.
"The guys really tried to get T-Mac the ball," West coach Avery Johnson of Dallas said.
The West led, 74-53, before the East awoke behind James, Wade and Iverson. The trio hacked away at the deficit and a pair of 3-pointers by James made it 87-81 midway through the third period.
"He can get a jump shot whenever he wants, he can get to the basket almost whenever he wants, and he just does things so easy," said East coach Flip Saunders of Detroit, who became the fourth coach to win this game for both conferences.
The Pistons returned and continued the rally with some defense. Ben Wallace had consecutive blocks on Pau Gasol of Memphis and Richard Hamilton flipped in a shot to make it 96-94.
The quartet scored the East's first 11 points of the fourth quarter before O'Neal threw in a hook for a 107-101 lead with 7:38 remaining.
"I think we got the momentum right there," Wallace said. "I think even before that the momentum had begun to shift and that was a really big play right there. After that, we were able to take control of the game and get a win."
McGrady and James got off to quick starts and kept things entertaining in the early going. McGrady hammered home a lob off the backboard from Bryant and threw down a windmill dunk.
As promised, Saunders inserted all four of his Pistons at the same time with 3:38 left in the first quarter. As soon as they entered, O'Neal caught everyone off guard by throwing his second free throw off the backboard and slamming it home - but it was a lane violation.
Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace tried a lefthanded 3-pointer that drew no rim late in the opening period, which ended in a 28-28 tie.
Behind McGrady, the West took control in the second period. After a breakaway dunk by Allen opened a 56-45 lead with 3:36 left, Saunders actually called a timeout.
On the ensuing possession, Carter soared for a windmill dunk that missed - and caromed on the fly to the opposite 3-point circle. McGrady slammed home another lob from Bryant, and the West eventually opened a 70-53 halftime lead.
"The first two quarters was more entertainment than anything," McGrady said. "They came out in the third quarter and were ready to play ball."