NEW YORK — A year ago, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook was recovering from a third knee surgery in six months.
On Sunday, he placed himself in the conversation with immortals Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan thanks to a brilliant All-Star Game showing.
Westbrook came within one point of Chamberlain’s 1962 record by putting together a virtuoso 41-point performance, leading the Western Conference to a 163-158 victory over the Eastern Conference in the NBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden.
Westbrook turned in the third 40-point performance in All-Star game history and was selected the game’s MVP, doing it nearly 14 months after having his third operation. He underwent surgery in April 2013 after colliding with Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley, had another procedure in October 2013 and the third one in late December 2013, resulting in him sitting out 36 games.
He also missed 14 games early in the 2014-15 season due to a broken bone in his right hand.
“Definitely a blessing,” Westbrook said of his All-Star outing. “You never want to take (any) games off, especially an All-Star Game to go out and show your talents. I’m blessed to be able to play the game I love and definitely happy we got the win.”
Chamberlain, then of the Philadelphia Warriors, had the first 40-point effort in an All-Star Game while playing 37 minutes, but he was not even named the MVP in 1962 as the East lost by 20. In 1988, Jordan had the second 40-point performance in front of his hometown fans in Chicago Stadium, when he did it in 29 minutes and won the MVP award.
Westbrook barely needed half the game to nearly match Chamberlain. In 25:33, Westbrook hit 16 of 28 shots, including five of nine 3-pointers, while scoring in a variety of ways, though setting the record was not necessarily a priority in a close game.
“Somebody told me, but at that time we were just trying to find a way to win the game and find a way to close the game out,” Westbrook said. “But I missed about six or seven layups. I could definitely have tied it.”
Golden State guard Stephen Curry said, “Certain guys started asking questions trying to figure out what the number was. But more of the talk was we wanted to win the game really bad.”
Westbrook did set the record for most points in a half, scoring 27 before halftime. He eclipsed the mark set by Glen Rice in 1997 and matched by Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving in last season’s game in New Orleans. He added six more points during the third quarter, all on dunks.
Westbrook sank a 3-pointer that gave the West a 158-151 edge with 2:22 remaining, and he finished off his night with two high-arcing foul shots with 1.3 seconds remaining. On the second foul shot, Westbrook tried to miss intentionally, but that was about the only thing that didn’t work out for the speedy guard.
“That’s unbelievable,” Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James said of Westbrook’s performance. “He’s an incredible talent in our league. His motor, his demeanor, how he approaches the game — he showcased it today.”
Added Curry: “It was a spectacular show of athleticism, and he kind of got hot in the second quarter. He showed a lot. Anytime you can score 40 points in an All-Star Game — that’s pretty cool.”
Westbrook was one of 16 players to reach double figures in a game that set the record for most combined points (321) and featured a combined 233 shots, including dunks by veteran forwards Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs and Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks.
James attacked the rim early and finished with 30 points to pace the East team.
Houston Rockets guard James Harden, Westbrook’s former teammate, added 29 for the West, including the go-ahead, step-back 3-pointer from the left wing that gave the West a 151-148 edge with 4:02 remaining.
For the West, Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge contributed 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting. For the East, Atlanta Hawks forward Kyle Korver added 21 points, all on 3-pointers.
New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony received a nice hand from the crowd before the game. In possibly his last game of the season, he totaled 14 points on 6-of-20 shooting. Anthony might soon undergo knee surgery but after the game spent most of his press conference discussing the reported buyout of teammate Amar’e Stoudemire’s contract.
“I haven’t made a decision yet,” Anthony said regarding a knee operation. “I haven’t even thought about it. I want to get through tonight and have a clear mind.”
The first quarter featured nine dunks and 13 3-pointers as the West took a 47-36 lead. The East held an 18-16 edge after James knocked down consecutive 3-pointers.
The West scored the next 12 points on two 3-pointers by Aldridge and 3-pointers by Curry and Harden. Korver knocked down three straight 3-pointers to get the East to within 39-32, but Westbrook scored six points in the final 91 seconds, including a two-handed dunk at the buzzer.
Westbrook continued his show by scoring 11 of the West’s first 13 points of the second quarter. He had three straight 3-pointers and another thunderous dunk, and the West opened a 60-42 lead.
Westbrook’s layup after five straight offensive rebounds by the West extended the lead to 67-49 and set the record for points in a half.
The East cut the deficit to 83-82 at halftime after Irving sank a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left.
NOTES: Sunday marked the fifth time that New York hosted the All-Star Game. It also hosted the game in 1954, 1955, 1968 and 1998. … Toronto G Kyle Lowry and Washington G John Wall were first-time starters. It was the first time that the East’s starting backcourt consisted of first-time starters since Allen Iverson (Philadelphia) and Eddie Jones (Charlotte) got the nod in 2000. … The Warriors had two starters in the game for the first time since 1967, when Rick Barry and Nate Thurmond combined for 54 points in the Cow Palace near San Francisco. … Miami F Chris Bosh is the third player in NBA history to be a five-time All Star with two different teams. The others are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Milwaukee and Los Angeles Lakers) and Kevin Garnett (Minnesota and Boston). … Former Knicks play-by-play broadcaster Marv Albert called his 20th All-Star Game.
Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair
If James Harden needed any extra motivation against the Los Angeles Clippers, he found it in the first half.
Harden scored 34 points, and the Rockets held on for a 100-98 victory over the Clippers in a sometimes testy affair on Sunday at Staples Center.
Point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 23 points, missed a contested shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
“It was very important for us just to go out there and play well,” said Harden, who hit seven of 16 shots from the floor, three of five from 3-point range and 17 of 18 free throws. “The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today, and it was a good win for us.”
Harden provided much of that pop, particularly in the second quarter after Clippers forward Matt Barnes was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul after pushing Harden to the court at 6:02. Harden scored 15 of his 18 points in the period after that, leading the Rockets to a 58-50 halftime lead.
Did the flagrant foul add more fuel for the Rockets’ All-Star guard and MVP candidate?
“Yeah. Things like that are fun,” said Harden, who had 24 points in the first half. “We have fun, we got boosted off of that.”
The win ended a two-game skid for the Rockets (44-22). Houston forward Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while forward Terrence Jones added 16 points and 12 boards.
“This was a win that we needed, especially on the road,” Ariza said. “Going into the home stretch, these are the types of games we have to win.”
Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin returned after missing 15 games due to surgery on his right elbow. Griffin had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but committed five turnovers in 41 minutes.
“I didn’t think I played well,” said Griffin, who managed 4-of-10 shooting. “I was out of rhythm. Way too many turnovers, obviously.”
Barnes scored 19 points and guard J.J. Redick had 15 for the Clippers (42-24), who fell into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings with the Dallas Mavericks.
Paul lamented a host of turnovers in the defeat, including a critical one involving center DeAndre Jordan.
“I had some bad turnovers,” said Paul, who committed three of the Clippers’ 20 miscues compared to 13 for the Rockets. “On one, I drove it off DeAndre’s foot, the other one I lost towards the end of the half. We have to take better care of the ball. We still had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t do it.”
The Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Paul scored seven straight points, capping it with a 3-point basket to tie the score at 96 with 3:05 left in the game. Houston got a 3-pointer by Jones, but Barnes countered with a basket to keep Los Angeles within 99-98 with 1:35 left. Los Angeles, though, never scored again.
Griffin got a steal as Ariza attempted a pass to Harden, but Ariza drew a charging foul as Griffin bolted to the bucket with 12 seconds remaining. Griffin remained unhappy about the call after the game.
“If I speak on that, I’ll get fined,” Griffin said.
Harden hit one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left, capping the scoring before Paul failed to connect on a jumper in the lane with Ariza defending.
The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 36-20 in the second quarter despite making just 38.5 percent of their shots compared to 44.4 percent for the Clippers. Overall, the Clippers hit 43.9 percent to 37.2 percent for the Rockets. They also held an edge in 3-point shooting, converting 12 of 26 attempts to seven of 30 for Houston. The Rockets, though were 29 of 36 from the foul line to 14 of 24 for Los Angeles.
Jordan finished with 20 rebounds and four blocks.
NOTES: F Blake Griffin’s return benefits PG Chris Paul as much as any Clipper. “Teams have been able to trap (Paul) far more than they can when Blake is on the floor because of (Griffin’s) ability to pass,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure CP is the happiest of all to have him back.” … Rivers isn’t sure if injured G Jamal Crawford would return before the playoffs. Crawford has missed six games with a right calf contusion. … Rockets C Dwight Howard sat out his 18th game with a right knee edema. “He’s doing everything he can, he’s trying to get better, but until you’re on the floor, it’s impossible to say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said regarding Howard’s return. … Both clubs resume play Tuesday. Houston hosts the Orlando Magic, while Los Angeles plays the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center.
Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle
SAN ANTONIO — Guard Manu Ginobili was helped off the floor late in the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday due to a sprained right ankle.
Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points. He was immediately was led to the locker room, and he did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court. He did not return to the game.
In 19 minutes during the Spurs’ 123-97 win over the Timberwolves, Ginobili scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and leading him to play limited minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.
NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return
Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, out the last 15 games with an elbow injury, was cleared to return Sunday against the Houston Rockets.
Griffin had surgery five weeks ago to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.
“He said, ‘I’m ready,'” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday’s game. “Yesterday the trainers called me and said, ‘If he can go, he can go. He’s been cleared.'”
Rivers said timing likely will be an adjustment for Griffin.
“Timing is timing,” Rivers said. “You lose it when you don’t play in an NBA game. Sometimes you come back and you play great the first game and then you lose your timing. Sometimes it doesn’t. As far as the way we play, it won’t be hard for him at all.”
In 51 games this season, Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
–Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had to be helped off the floor late in the third quarter against Minnesota on Sunday. Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points.
He was helped off the floor and immediately was led to the locker room. He did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court.
Up to that point, Ginobili had scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against Toronto and play limited minutes against Cleveland on March 12.
–Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr sent emails to three fans who were disappointed that he rested several prominent players, including All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets in Denver.
“There’s two really good sides to the story,” Kerr said, according to the Associated Press report. “Nobody’s wrong here. … I can’t argue with them.”
Kerr received an email from a family that drove from South Dakota to Denver to see Curry, Thompson and the entertaining Warriors play. But Curry, Thompson, center Andrew Bogut and reserve guard Andre Iguodala did not play so they could be rested, and the Warriors lost 114-103.
“I heard from some fans. I received a few emails, stories about driving in from a long distance off and spending a lot of money on tickets,” Kerr said. “I have great sympathy for those people. I really do. It’s a tricky one. It’s something that I think Adam Silver is trying to address through the scheduling shuffling that he’s talking about.
–The Dallas Mavericks recalled center/forward Dwight Powell from the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Powell played in one game during his most recent assignment to the D-League and finished with 28 points, five rebounds and two assists to lead the Legends in a 115-89 win over the Austin Spurs on Saturday night.
Powell has appeared in 19 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.0 minutes per game.
–The Atlanta Hawks signed forward Austin Daye to a 10-day contract Sunday.
Daye appeared in 26 games (four starts) earlier this season with the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.
In 10 games this season with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League, Daye has averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 28.5 minutes.
–The Miami Heat recalled guard Zoran Dragic from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
Zoran appeared in four games (one start) and averaged 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.50 steals, helping the Skyforce to a 3-1 record over that span.