Shaq, Kobe winners again in All-Star game
PHOENIX Shaq danced, Kobe dazzled.
And just like old times, they won again.
Bryant led all scorers with 27 points, O’Neal partied his way back onto the All-Star stage with 17 in just 11 minutes, and the Western Conference beat the East 146-119 Sunday night.
Back on the same team for the first time in nearly five years, the three-time champions shared the game MVP award. They helped the West get untracked after an awful start, then teamed up for a few buckets that helped blow it open in the third quarter.
And they did it in the ways that made them so different—Bryant with his cold-as-ice stare and focus, O’Neal as the oversized clown who made fans and foes alike laugh.
It was their first time on the floor as teammates since the 2004 NBA finals. O’Neal was traded to Miami that summer, breaking apart a duo that produced three straight titles but was perhaps better known for its frequent feuding that made the breakup inevitable.
“It felt like flashbacks,” O’Neal said during an interview on TNT. “It felt like ‘99 to ‘02.”
Bryant and O’Neal shared a slight hug after being announced as MVPs, then playfully fought over the trophy commissioner David Stern handed to them.
Amare Stoudemire scored 19 for the West, which bounced back from its loss last year in New Orleans, when Bryant was limited to just a few minutes of action while resting a dislocated pinkie finger.
LeBron James led the East with 20 points. Paul Pierce and Dwyane Wade each scored 18.
O’Neal missed the All-Star game last year after 14 straight selections, and he brought back his unmatched entertaining abilities. Players were introduced on a stage behind the Jabbawockeez, a hip-hop dance group. O’Neal, the last reserve to come out, was wearing one of their masks and boogied along with them before taking his spot on the court.
“That was freestyle,” O’Neal said.
He later jazzed up a comedy skit in which players sang love songs for a fake Valentine’s Day CD with an energetic rendition of Billy Ocean’s “Caribbean Queen.”
The weekend festivities were a welcome distraction for Phoenix basketball fans, whose disappointing Suns were apparently in the process of dismantling their team while the fun was going on around them.
Stoudemire, who started for the West, is the biggest name involved in trade rumors ahead of next week’s deadline. Just in case he won’t be seen again for a while, Stoudemire earned a pair of loud ovations before the game from the celebrity-filled crowd that included Muhammad Ali, plus Sen. John McCain sitting four seats away from Spike Lee.
O’Neal also could be moved, and he showed he’s still got plenty of game left if somebody wants him.
The East started quickly, while the West missed nine of its first 11 shots and trailed 20-10 when West coach Phil Jackson called timeout and inserted O’Neal with 5:44 remaining in the first quarter. The West scored the next 11 points with Shaq and Kobe on the floor, part of a 19-0 run that made it 27-20.
O’Neal, enjoying a resurgence this season after an injury-plagued 2007-08, had three baskets and set up another during the run. There was little interaction between he and Bryant, who both insist they’ve patched things up, aside from normal basketball plays.
O’Neal returned midway through the third quarter with the West already ahead by double digits. Bryant set him up for a layup, then made one himself for a 97-85 lead.
O’Neal scored the next eight West points, including one basket when Bryant fed him for a dunk. Another came when he ran a give-and-go with Hornets guard Chris Paul—with O’Neal feeding the 6-foot Paul in the post and swooping in from the perimeter for a dunk.
Paul, Brandon Roy, Pau Gasol and Tony Parker all finished with 14 points for the West.