On Kobe Bryant's night, Kevin Durant proves to be a star among stars
Kevin Durant maintains his humility, but he is starting to abandon that aw-shucks, happy-to-be-here stance when he is surrounded by the league's best players. He used to say that he wasn't in the same class as superstars Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. But if he hadn't already proven it when he led the league in scoring last season, or when he led Team USA to a gold medal in Turkey, Durant let it be known on Sunday at Staples Center that he is truly a star among stars.
Bryant wasn't going to let anyone get the most valuable player award in his last All-Star Game in front his home fans in Los Angeles. That didn't stop Durant from coming close to taking it from him.
Bryant led all scorers with 37 points, coming with five of Wilt Chamberlain's all-star scoring record, but he let it be known how much Durant has truly arrived when he repeatedly looked for the fourth-year Oklahoma City Thunder forward in the fourth quarter. Durant, the District native and Montrose Christian alum, kept earning his trust as he used that text-book, confection-sweet release to knock down shots.
"Shots felt good," Durant said after scoring 34 points, with seven coming in the final two minutes, as he helped the Western Conference fend off a late charge by James and Amar'e Stoudemire to win 148-143. James had just the second-all-star triple double with 29 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, and Bryant had his first all-star double-double with 14 rebounds. But Durant made the shots that mattered most.
"It was a good game in the fourth quarter, so as a player, a competitive player, that's something I enjoy being in," Durant said. "It was like playing in the playground. It was like a pick-up game almost. This was a great experience for me. Very blessed to be in this situation, so I can't take anything for granted."
Durant has always been lethal, but he doesn't seem to be content. He should finish the season as the fourth player to win back-to-back scoring titles -- joining Bryant, Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson -- since Michael Jordan finished playing for the Chicago Bulls in 1998. The more his career ascends, the more Durant is accepting the responsibilities that come with it.
He admitted that he didn't feel like he completely belonged last season in Dallas, but those feelings were tossed aside once the fans decided select him as a starter.
"I felt a lot more comfortable," said Durant, who scored 15 points in his all-star debut. "I think me being a starter helped me out a little bit and also having my teammate [Russell Westbrook] there. Last year, I was a little nervous just being around the guys. But this year, I feel like I belonged. My teammates made me feel so comfortable just being myself and I was able to be relaxed out there and play my game. The other guys were pushing for me to go out and have fun and take the shots I normally take and just be aggressive. So, it was a great experience."
The got-next moment of the All-Star Game came near the end of the second period, when Bryant drove baseline, pumped and did a reverse slam. New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul immediately stole the ball from Chris Bosh, then tossed a lob Durant who avoided Dwight Howard to dunk with two hands.
"I've had my time," Bryant said. "It's [Blake Griffin's] time now, and it's these younger players, the Durants and so forth, to step forward and carry the league. I'm on my way out. So it's important for them to carry the league."
Durant joked with Bryant before the game, calling him "Old Fella," but was excited to hear Bryant saying that it was time for Durant and other young players to serve as ambassadors for the league. "He's been here a long time, but he's still playing like he's 22 years old," Durant said of Bryant. "You know, as a player, you only hope and pray for a career like he's had; a lot of championships, a lot of scoring titles.
"It was an honor to play alongside a guy like that," he said. "So if he passes the torch on to me, I guess I know what to do with it."
| February 21, 2011; 10:14 AM ET
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