Team Giannis defeated Team LeBron in the 2023 NBA All-Star game by a score of 184-175. This marked Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James’ first defeat as a team captain in the event’s six-year run with its reformed format.
Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard hit the game-winning shot with a sidestep three from the left wing for Team Giannis after Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics), Kyrie Irving (Dallas Mavericks) and Tyrese Haliburton (Indiana Pacers) waged a late surge for Team LeBron. Lillard finished with 26 points on 9-21 shooting, including 8-20 gunning from deep.
But it was Lillard’s teammate, Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics), took home the 2023 Kobe Bryant Trophy awarded to the All-Star Game MVP. Tatum had a huge night, breaking Anthony Davis’ All-Star game scoring record with 55 points on 23-31 shooting from the floor and 10-18 shooting from beyond the arc. The performance gave him a grand promotion for the debut of his signature Tatum 1 sneaker with Jordan Brand.
The celebration started with a newly implemented live draft. Giannis had the first pick among the reserves and chose Lillard over his Bucks teammate Jrue Holiday, spurring lighthearted jabs from James and TNT’s Inside the NBA host Ernie Johnson.
Giannis made it clear that he was going with a guard-oriented, scoring approach, taking Lillard, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City Thunder), Holiday and DeMar DeRozan (Chicago Bulls) quickly off the board.
LeBron went for athleticism, dynamism, and size, selecting Brown, Anthony Edwards (Minnesota Timberwolves), and Paul George (Los Angeles Clippers) with some of his initial picks. He had the first pick among starters and took Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers), as well as being handed reigning two-time league MVP Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets).
As fun as selecting teams live may be, anticipating the dreaded last pick per round drew a lot of buzz in the days leading up to the game. In the end, Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis Grizzlies) was the final selection among reserves, and Lauri Markannen of the hometown Utah Jazz was the last starter taken.
Back to the game, Tatum was the brightest spot in what was otherwise an All-Star game that reverted back to the lackadaisical and carefree competition of the mid 2010s. After three-plus years of (somewhat) reinvigorated defense and down-to-the-wire finishes, there was anything but defense for all 48 minutes of play tonight.
The high men for Team Giannis were Tatum, as well as Donovan Mitchell (Cleveland Cavaliers) with 40 points, Lillard with 26 points, Markannen with 13 points, and Pascal Siakam who dialed in 12.
On the other side of the ball, Team LeBron lost every quarter, failing to bring in money for their respective charities on the scorecards. They were helped by 35 points from Jaylen Brown, in addition to 32 a piece from Irving and Embiid, as well as a late 18 points on 4-6 shooting from deep for Haliburton.
There were several highlights of the night. The shot of the game was a 48-foot bomb from Lillard well behind the half-court line. He walked into his shot and gave a new definition to his “Logo Lillard” nickname.
Brown and Tatum gave fans a classic one-on-one at the end of the third quarter, with Brown getting the better of his teammate in buckets scored. It’s not an All-Star game without friendly competition of such sort.
Prior to injuring his hand on the rim, James dazzled the arena with a lob-to-self off the glass for a thunderous jam, reminding spectators that he still has athleticism left in the tank. His emphatic dunk took the cake for the night, but was rivaled by a double-clutch reverse dunk from Ja Morant (Memphis Grizzlies) and a windmill dunk later in the contest from Brown. Giannis had one dunk on the night — his only points, as an injured hand forced the former ASG MVP to put on his warm ups to prevent further injury less than 60 seconds in.
De’Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings) was the only player to go scoreless, missing on his lone dunk attempt, but it was a joy to see him be recognized for his stellar winning play this season. Other quiet participants were Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks) and Jokic, who both had four points each. Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat) played the most minutes among reserves for team LeBron (24), yet also had four points.
Had Lillard started and established more of a rhythm early, he would have had a much greater chance at MVP. He started off drilling his first three-pointer before missing his next six. Nonetheless, he represented for the city of Portland and gave fans what they wanted to see — logo shots and a Dame Time finish to seal the deal.