TORONTO — On a night that saw LeBron James throw down monstrous dunks, Steph Curry toss up buzzer-beating threes, and Kobe Bryant make his final all-star appearance, Toronto played perhaps the starring role of the 65th NBA all-star game.
With the city providing a spectacular — although chilly — backdrop for the first NBA all-star game played outside the United States, the Western Conference roared past the East 196-173, setting a record for points.
And when Drake addressed the crowd pre-game, he summed up the fuzzy feel-good mood in the Air Canada Centre on Sunday.
"This is the best game with the best players — finally in the best city in the world," the rapper and Raptors’ global ambassador told the giddy Air Canada Centre crowd.
Russell Westbrook poured in 31 points, grabbed eight rebounds and had five steals and five assists to become the first player to win back-to-back MVP awards outright. (Bob Pettit won the 1958 MVP and shared the honour with Elgin Baylor in 1959.)
"Any time you can be able to be in the history books, it always means something to me, man," said the Oklahoma City guard. "I’m just thankful to be able to play the game of basketball and be in a game like this is something that I never take for granted."
Curry added 26 points, and with the clock ticking down and the Air Canada Centre crowd cheering him on, the reigning league MVP and Golden State guard drilled a dramatic three-point shot that dropped through the net, drawing a massive roar of delight.
"Just thankful to finally make one from pretty deep out," Curry said. "I tried it like two or three times in the game and saved the best for last, so that’s fun."
Paul George, who’s made a spectacular comeback after breaking his leg in 2014, had 41 points to lead the East — one point shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s scoring record set in 1962. His nine three-pointers were an all-star record.
Bryant, playing his 18th consecutive and final all-star game — the future Hall of Famer will retire after this season — was feted in a touching pre-game video montage introduced by NBA legend Magic Johnson. He finished with 10 points, and received a standing ovation, and chants of "Ko-be! Ko-be!" when he left the floor with just over a minute to play.
"It was fun," said Bryant, who had his children sitting behind the bench for the game. "I had a blast playing with those guys, laughing and joking with them on the bench. And, you know, I got a chance to stop Pau (Gasol) in a post, redeem myself from what he did to me when Chicago came to town.
"But all those things are just fun. I had a great time. I had a great, great time."
Bryant added to his long list of records when he grabbed his 38th career all-star steal to pass Michael Jordan — one of dozens of retired NBA stars in the crowd — for most all-time.
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan made history of their own for the Raptors, becoming the first two Toronto players voted onto the team. Lowry started and finished with 14 points, while DeRozan had 18.
"I think tonight it capped a great weekend," Lowry said. "Toronto, I think we put ourselves on the map a little bit around the world."
The game, as always, was a dazzling offensive showcase, with huge alley-oop dunks drawing "ooohs" from a star-studded front row that included Spike Lee — in bright orange hat and glasses to match, and shiny gold sneakers.
Among the other celebrities that came out: Super Bowl MVP Von Miller, Toronto Blue Jays legend Joe Carter, former host of "The Daily Show" Jon Stewart, actors Jason Sudeikis and Olivia Wilde, comedian Kevin Hart and supermodel Kate Upton and her boyfriend Justin Verlander.
Defence? Non-existent, and game officials must have been sweating the scoring over the final minutes, as the ACC scoreboard doesn’t go beyond "199."
It was clear virtually from the opening tip-off it was going to be a high-scoring affair, and the West took a 92-90 lead into halftime, breaking the record for points in a half (89 set in 2014).
In between the fast-paced action on the court, there was plenty of Canadian content, including a tribute to Dr. James Naismith, the Canadian who invented the game.
Naismith’s grandson Jim Naismith was presented with a ball signed by the all-stars, and two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash told the crowd "I’m proud (the all-stars) will be showcasing their skills here in Canada."
Canadian women’s star Natalie Achonwa introduced a celebration of the WNBA’s 20th anniversary.
Drake, dressed in a garish multi-coloured "Farewell Mamba" leather jacket in a tribute to Bryant, took the stage for the player introductions, with Bryant, Lowry and DeRozan receiving the loudest cheers.
The crowd booed East coach Tyronn Lue — Raptors fans argued Dwane Casey should have earned coaching honours — and cheered West coach Gregg Popovich.
Sting, the former frontman of the Police sang at halftime, while Cirque du Soleil, the acrobatic group founded in Montreal, performed a pre-game act that was part basketball, part parkour. Nelly Furtado sang "O Canada," while Ne-Yo performed the American anthem.
The night capped a glitzy three days of festivities in Toronto. The only negative was the deep freeze that enveloped the city, as temperatures on Saturday plummetted to minus-23 Celsius.