Team LeBron is officially on a winning streak at the NBA All-Star Game.
The LeBron James-captained side won this year's version of the annual event over Team Giannis 178-164 Sunday at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. James' squad defeated a team captained by Stephen Curry in last year's All-Star Game, which was the first with the new conference-less format that makes the top vote-getter from each conference draft the teams.
James finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and four assists, but it was Kevin Durant who took home MVP honors with 31 points and seven boards. They were part of a balanced effort that allowed Team LeBron to overcome a 20-point deficit in the second half. Klay Thompson (20 points), Kawhi Leonard (19 points) and Damian Lillard (18 points) were among the 10 teammates who finished in double figures.
Captain Giannis Antetokounmpo spearheaded his team with 38 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, but it wasn't enough to overcome the second-half blitz from Team LeBron.
Durant Remains League's Perfect Scoring Machine
There were plenty of storylines to choose from in this year's All-Star Game.
Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade had their moments as late additions in the twilights of their careers, with the former drilling all three of his three-pointers and the latter catching an alley-oop from former Miami Heat teammate James and finding him on another with an off-the-backboard pass.
There was also the dialed-up intensity as Team LeBron came flying back from the 20-point deficit with threes from Thompson and Lillard and James impacting the game in a number of ways as only he can.
However, Team LeBron fully seized control when Durant entered the contest for the final seven minutes and went into pure takeover mode.
He connected on three triples and a mid-range while mixing in a head-turning block during the stretch. His defense picked up, but it was his silky-smooth release on a jumper that is essentially unblockable at 6'9" that put Team Giannis away as quick as his flick of the wrist on the follow through.
Durant and James set the tone as the two teams started playing to win down the stretch, and the former surely didn't want to lose to teammate Curry. Curry finished with 17 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and memorable moments that included a dunk in the final seconds and four-point play on a foul from Thompson.
However, Golden State Warriors bragging rights went to Durant as he sent a chill up the spine of the rest of the league.
He is the perfect scoring machine who gets to play in a lineup that also features Curry and Thompson around him. If that wasn't clear after two straight NBA Finals MVPs, he drove the point home in crunch time with the league's best players all sharing the court.
All-Star Game Clearest Sign Yet the Bucks Have Arrived
The Warriors are the two-time defending champions, but they don't have the league's best record at the break.
Rather, it's the Milwaukee Bucks, who check in at 43-14 and ahead of the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and all challengers in the Eastern Conference. The path to the Finals is wide-open with James in the West following his eight straight Eastern Conference crowns, and Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton flashed some of the firepower it may take to get there on Sunday.
Team Giannis had a 95-82 lead at the half thanks largely to the Antetokounmpo dunk show.
He caught an alley-oop pass off the backboard from Paul George while James could only watch and then skied for another off an alley-oop bounce pass from Stephen Curry. He even busted out his own one-handed, cross-court pass into the waiting arms of a wide-open Nikola Jokic that likely made some NFL quarterbacks jealous.
Antetokounmpo had 20 points at the break and was the dominant force for extended stretches, but Middleton made sure he wasn't the only Buck impressing, as he had five three-pointers in the first half on his way to 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting from deep.
Middleton is surely not the first player to come to mind when casual fans think about NBA All-Stars, but he held his own against the best the league has to offer. Milwaukee will need him to do just that in the postseason when some of the league's best defenders like Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler collapse on Antetokounmpo.
While the defensive intensity wasn't there in the All-Star Game, Middleton still had to perform on a national stage and delivered.
This season has belonged to the Bucks in the Eastern Conference, and their pair of All-Stars reminded everyone of that again in Charlotte.