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Kobe Bryant Shuts Down LeBron James in All-Star Duel

With less than six minutes left in the NBA All-Star Game Sunday night, Kobe Bryant told West coach Gregg Popovich that he wanted to guard the East’s LeBron James, the consensus best player on the planet, a title Bryant, now 32, once held.

The showcase of uncontested dunks and behind-the-back passes that wowed the Houston crowd was over. It was time to win the game, the time that Bryant loves the most.

And so he defended James as if it were the NBA Finals, bumping and shoving, harassing the Miami Heat’s superstar at every turn. Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers held James to just one point in those closing, decisive moments. James had a turnover and two of his shots blocked by Bryant, who had no problem letting the game’s best player know it.

“Just taking the challenge and settling in a little bit when the game gets close,” Bryant said. “It’s fun. I enjoy it.”

Bryant’s West squad won, 143-138. Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul earned the MVP with 20 points and 15 assists, while Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant had a game-high 30 points. But Bryant’s stellar defense on the player who took over from him as the top player in the world was the topic of much discussion.

Bryant blocked a James top-of-the-key jump shot with 2:39 left that led to a Durant open-court dunk and a 136-126 West advantage. The West appeared to have victory in hand, but Bryant would not let up on James, who lost the ball with 53.9 seconds left, leading to a Blake Griffin dunk that pushed the West ahead further, 142-134. And for his final impressive measure, Bryant blocked another James shot out of bounds on the baseline with 40.9 seconds left.

“I didn’t want him to score on me, dammit,” Bryant said.

Said James of Bryant’s defense: “I’m absolutely not surprised. … It’s all in good spirit. Two guys that love to compete, love to go at it. I had a lot of fun.”

Added Bryant: “The last eight minutes are usually more intense,” Bryant said. “The last eight minutes of the game are what fans really want to see. They want to see that competitive spirit. All in all, I think we gave them a pretty good show.”

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