Orlando, Fla. • The Kid walked in smiling. Still humble. Still deferential. But more certain than ever his talent and name rank among the world’s elite.
Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant battled with the best Sunday, won, and walked off the Amway Center hardwood with the 2012 NBA All-Star Game Most Valuable Player award to prove it. By the time Kid Clutch’s co-game-high 36 points were in the book, the Western Conference had outlasted the Eastern Conference 152-149 in the 61st annual contest, Durant had outdueled Miami’s LeBron James, and the 23-year-old whose childlike grin disguises his killer touch shined brighter than anyone in the league.
Storylines How the West wonIn short » Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant leads the Western Conference to a 152-149 victory over the Eastern Conference.
Key stat » The teams combine for 303 points and 25 made 3-pointers, both of which set records.
Key moment » Ex-Jazz guard Deron Williams misses a potential game-winning 3-pointer with 8.9 seconds to go.
Even on the night Kobe Bryant (27 points) topped Michael Jordan for the all-time All-Star scoring record, hitting 271 for his career.
Even during an evening when The King poured in 36 points — including 15 during the third quarter and 23 in the second half — as James nearly tilted the outcome toward the East.
Durant still hasn’t won the NBA’s regular-season MVP. He still hasn’t carried the Thunder to the NBA Finals. But during a lockout-shortened 2011-12 season that already bears The Kid’s trademark — charity-game and streetball throwdowns during the work stoppage, OKC’s 27-7 mark that’s tied for tops in the league heading into the second half of the year — the two-time scoring champion added another trophy to his mantle Sunday before a worldwide audience.
"Man, it’s just exciting to be named [an] All-Star," said Durant, who drilled 14 of 25 shots, hit three 3-pointers and grabbed seven rebounds in 37 minutes, 23 seconds of action. "But to step it up to another level and become MVP, it’s only something that as a kid you dream about. Coming from where I come from, I didn’t think I’d be here. Everything has just been a blessing to me. I’m excited. I’m glad I’m taking this back to Oklahoma City, as well."
So is Thunder coach Scott Brooks, who led a West team that set an All-Star record for most first-half points (88) and paired with the East to establish a new mark for combined points in a non-overtime game (301).
OKC’s Russell Westbrook added 21 on 10-of-17 shooting and five rebounds, while Brooks’ staff was fleshed out by his assistants. It was small-market thunder in what has become the flashiest midseason exhibition game of any of the big-four professional sports.
Brooks told himself before All-Star weekend started to enjoy the ride. He regularly coaches two of the game’s most thrilling young stars and leads a team that should be competing for the NBA championship for years to come. But after spending 10 years in the league as a player and never coming close to the inside of an All-Star locker room, Brooks knew Sunday was special.
"I loved every minute of it," he said. "I will cherish it for the rest of my career."
Brooks also knows only a few ever have the opportunity to intimately watch a player like Durant — still far from his prime, with an overall game that continues to deepen — evolve and mature before their eyes.
"The thing I love about him, he comes in everyday and gets his work in, whether he has a big night or a night that wasn’t so well. He comes in and does his work," Brooks said. "He’s a tremendous kid, as you all well know. Off the court, he’s classy — he’s a special teammate."
The Kid’s one step closer to the top of the league. He smiled and clutched the trophy that proved it. And he’s still only 23 years old.
East-West box score: http://bit.ly/wX1cjk
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