ORLANDO If the Bulls played a game the way the Eastern Conference did Sunday night, Tom Thibodeau would lambaste his team for lack of preparedness and a lackluster defensive effort that led to them falling into a deep hole and having to play from behind. But this was the All-Star Game, so the perfectionist coach remained seated, rested his two All-Stars and oversaw a furious comeback that ended in a familiar sight for NBA fans: LeBron James coming up short in the clutch, leading to a 152-149 West win.
Derrick Rose (14 points) got an early fast-break finish off a dazzling James assist, but overall, the Bulls point guard left the spectacular plays to the likes of Miamis James (36 points). For the West, Kobe Bryant (27 points) scored early and often, but the aerial display put on by Oklahoma Citys Kevin Durant (36 points) and Blake Griffin (22 points) of the Clippers was what wowed the Orlando crowd as the Western Conference jumped out to a double-digit advantage in the opening stanza.
Thibodeau wasted no time in inserting the Bulls other All-Star, Luol Deng, who entered the contest at the 5:51 mark of the period and shortly thereafter dropped off an assist to Chicago native Dwyane Wade (24 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) of the rival Heat. Rose got his first break with 1:40 remaining in the first quarter, after which the West led, 39-28.
Thibodeau sat Deng at the outset of the second quarter, but received wing firepower in the form of Philadelphias Andre Iguodala, an Illinois native, whose all-around game and artistry in the air created a buzz in the audience. However, behind reserve Russell Westbrook (21 points) of the Thunder, the West maintained its comfortable winning margin and stayed in control of the high-scoring affair, led by the playmaking of Chris Paul (12 assists) of the Clippers.
Thibodeau shrewdly kept his stars on the bench through the end of the first half, not that either could have done much to make up the Easts massive deficit, though guards Wade and New Jerseys Deron Williams (22 points) did their best to keep their team in contention. At the intermission, the Bulls head coachs squad trailed, 88-69, as Durants scoring output carried the West.
After the break, Rose scored consecutive buckets a putback of an offensive rebound and a pull-up jumper as part of an East run that made it a more competitive game, best illustrated by Wades hard foul on Bryant that caused the Lakers superstar, who passed Michael Jordan to become the leading scorer in All-Star history in the third quarter, to bleed. Rose later knocked down consecutive three-pointers, helping make it a single-digit game, by virtue of an 18-6 run.
Thibodeau, who had left his starters in the game to spur the run, eventually rested Rose, who made his mark on the game after being somewhat passive in his first two All-Star appearances, with just over four minutes to go in the period. Meanwhile, the West recovered from the onslaught and kept a tenuous hold on the lead after withstanding its counterparts spurt and headed into the final frame holding a 124-112 lead.
The Easts reserves couldnt keep up the starters momentum and allowed the West, buoyed by Durant and three-point contest winner Kevin Love (17 points) of the Timberwolves, to extend their lead. But behind Williams, Iguodala and the reinserted James, the East again made a push to take some air out of their opponents cushion, as the game entered its stretch run.
With the East again cutting the deficit to single digits, eventual game MVP Durant and James staged an exciting duel that captivated fans and their peers alike, hitting contested long-distance from nearly impossible angles. A one-possession game with just over two minutes left, a Williams steal and layup cut it to 148-147 with under two minutes remaining, but with a chance to take the lead, Wade flubbed a fast-break opportunity.
A hectic sequence led to a Griffin follow-up dunk with 37 seconds on the clock, which was followed by Wade getting fouled and making two free throws to make it 150-149 with 22.8 seconds left. Bryant, regarded as the most clutch player in the league, was fouled on the next possession, but surprisingly missed the second of two foul shots, giving the East a chance to win or tie the game with 16.3 seconds to go.
After an East timeout, James, scrutinized in past postseasons for his seeming unwillingness to take the last shot, twice passed the ball once to Williams and after an East offensive rebound, turned it over and Griffin was eventually fouled with 1.1 seconds remaining. After the woeful free-throw shooter split a pair from the charity stripe, Wade took a desperation double-pump shot from the corner that was off the mark.