Jayson Tatum ends LeBron James’s all-star dominance with a record night


SALT LAKE CITY — Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum halted LeBron James’s All-Star Game dynasty, but the NBA’s 72nd midseason showcase still belonged to the Los Angeles Lakers star.

Team Giannis beat Team LeBron, 184-175, in a soporific contest Sunday night at Vivint Arena, snapping James’s five-game winning streak as a captain on a night when he was honored for becoming the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. Tatum led Team Giannis to the victory, pouring in an All-Star Game record 55 points to go with 10 rebounds and six assists amid a captivating shooting display in the pivotal third quarter.

“I wanted to win MVP,” Tatum said, noting that the award’s trophy is named after his childhood hero, Lakers great Kobe Bryant. “I didn’t think I’d get 55. That’s icing on the cake.”

James posted 13 points, one rebound and four assists in 14 minutes before sitting out the second half with a finger injury that he said “[wasn’t] too much to worry about.” Despite missing out on crunchtime after hitting his hand on the rim while blocking a shot, James was ubiquitous, participating in a live, playground-style draft with Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo to pick the team rosters and then being honored at halftime alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone, the NBA’s second and third all-time leading scorers.

“No matter the challenge, no matter the noise, he was relentless,” former Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade said as he introduced James to hearty applause at halftime. “He’s not just a four-time MVP or a 19-time all-star or a gold medalist or an NBA champion. He’s a son, father, husband and friend. Now he’s the all-time leading scorer in NBA history.”

James, Abdul-Jabbar and Malone then stood side by side, embracing and waving to the crowd. By earning the 19th all-star selection of his career, James tied Abdul-Jabbar for the most in league history. His 19 all-star appearances are a record.

“I didn’t get an opportunity to watch Kareem live, but I know the history of the game,” James said. “I did get an opportunity to watch a lot of Karl Malone games live. To see the way they graced the court with their ability — you have the physicality of Malone’s game, but he has some finesse as well with his midrange jump shot, with his ability to run the floor. Kareem’s game [is] a unique game that no one has ever been able to try to patent or try to steal from. They were just so dominant in their eras. I’m standing in between these guys, and it’s such a surreal feeling.”

In the NBA’s unconventional all-star format, the teams competed quarter-by-quarter for charity. They tied at 46 in the first quarter; Team Giannis won the second quarter, 53-46, and claimed the third quarter, 59-49.

The clock was turned off for the fourth quarter as the teams tried to reach a total target score of 182 points as part of the “Elam Ending,” which ensures every contest ends with game-winning points. The increase in effort that typically comes in the fourth quarter never materialized, and Tatum acknowledged the contest had a “safety first” feel as players tried to avoid injuries with the postseason around the corner.

Tatum broke Anthony Davis’s All-Star Game record of 52 points set in 2017. With 27 points in the third quarter, the St. Louis native set a record for points in an All-Star Game quarter.

“[The all-star scoring record] means the world,” he said. “Records are meant to be broken. I’ll hold it for as long as I can, but I’m certain someone will come along and break it.”

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, who won the three-point contest Saturday, delivered the winning basket with a deep three-pointer after several half-court heaves by Team Giannis missed badly. While the All-Star Saturday slate ended with a euphoric crowd reaction to Mac McClung’s unexpectedly thrilling slam dunk contest performance, some fans began filing out midway through the fourth quarter of Sunday’s showcase, which featured virtually no defensive effort.

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell added 40 points, four rebounds and 10 assists for Team Giannis. Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving and Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid scored 32 points apiece for Team LeBron.

“That is the worst basketball game ever played,” Team LeBron Coach Michael Malone said.

This year’s All-Star Game opened with a new twist: James and Antetokounmpo picked their rosters one-by-one as part of the pregame show. To lessen the embarrassment associated with being picked last, the NBA and the players union agreed that the captains would select their benches before picking their starters.

“We thought this would be an interesting experiment,” Commissioner Adam Silver said. “Thought it would just add a bit more excitement to it.”

Antetokounmpo selected Lillard as the first pick among the reserves — to James’s surprise, given that Jrue Holiday, Antetokounmpo’s Bucks teammate, was on the board. James later selected Embiid with the first pick among the starters, and Antetokoumpo followed with Tatum.

“He’s one of the best players in the league,” Antetokounmpo explained. “Capable scorer, as he showed. We had a little conversation. I knew he was going to play hard.”

The draft had its share of funny interludes, including Antetokounmpo mistakenly attempting to select Ja Morant in the reserves round even though the Memphis Grizzlies guard was slated to be a starter.

“Giannis is trying anything, y’all,” James joked.

After Jaren Jackson Jr. was the last reserve selected, Denver’s Nikola Jokic made sure he wouldn’t face the same fate among the starters. Jokic hopped out of his seat early before James had made his last selection, leaving Utah’s Lauri Markkanen to shrug in confusion once he realized he was the last one onstage.

Once Antetokounmpo finished his drafting duties, he took the court with a wrap protecting his injured right wrist. The two-time MVP dunked on the first possession and then immediately checked out to prevent further injury, saying he had to make a “hard decision but a mature decision” so he could maximize his availability for Milwaukee’s stretch run. Though he spent most of the night cheering from the sideline, the seven-time all-star claimed his first victory in three tries as a captain.

“Winner, winner, chicken dinner,” a smiling Antetokounmpo said.

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