CHICAGO – In his first NBA All-Star game on Sunday night at the United Center, Luka Doncic was the proverbial kid in a candy store.
And after he and Team LeBron treated the sellout crowd to a terrific down-to-the-wire finish that ended with a dramatic 157-155 victory over Team Giannis, Doncic was as giddy as anyone who got to pay alongside some of his favorite players.
“It’s my first time and it was something amazing and it’s all good,” Doncic said. “Very proud of my team.”
Doncic started the game and finished with eight points, one rebound, four assists and one steal in 18 minutes. The second-year point guard was 3-of-6 from the field, including 2-of-5 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Also, Doncic’s first assist came to none other than his childhood idol, LeBron James, who slammed it home.
“I was way lucky,” Doncic said. “It’s better to be on his team than against him. The first five on my team are probably the top five players, so it was great to be with them.”
Those other players in the Team LeBron starting lineup with Doncic included James Harden, Chicago native Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard and James.
Asked what was his favorite part of the game, Doncic said: “Just being out there, and obviously the win. The last quarter was fun to watch, so it was great.”
Mavs owner Mark Cuban was all smiles when asked about the performance by Doncic. Cuban made special note of the back-to-back 3-pointers Doncic connected on in the third quarter, which had the crowd buzzing and brought back memories of last year’s 3-point explosion by former Mavs superstar Dirk Nowitzki in the All-Star game in Charlotte.
“Once (Doncic) hit those threes that’s all he needed to do,” Cuban said. “It was kind of like a tribute to Dirk.
“Last year, Dirk’s (last All-Star) game when he just popped those threes, so it was good to see (Doncic) hit it. He had a couple of lobs, and you can tell he was having fun.”
Doncic buried those consecutive 3-pointers almost from the same spot on the court.
The fans also had fun watching the players execute one highlight-reel dunk after another, and drain one long-range 3-pointer after another. It was a typical All-Star game, loaded with a lot of pizzazz and memorable plays, and Leonard wound up winning the first annual Kobe Bryant Most Valuable Player award.
The game was especially memorable because of a new format — the Elam scoring system — that broke things up into four quarters, with each team having a chance to win money for their charity at the end of each quarter. The score was set back to 0-0 at the conclusion of the first and second quarters.
Team Giannis led, 133-124 after the third quarter. That meant the target score to win the game was 157.
The target score was tabulated when Bryant’s No. 24 jersey number was added to the team with the most points through three quarters.
There was no clock in the fourth quarter, and the players were dueling back-n-forth and playing some top-notch defense with $300,000 on the line for a Chicago-area charity. It all concluded when Kyle Lowry fouled Davis, who drilled the second of two free throws to end the game.
On winning the first Kobe Bryant MVP award, Leonard, who scored 30 points, said: “Words can’t explain how happy I am for it. To be able to put that trophy in my room – in my trophy room – and just be able to see Kobe’s name on there, it just means a lot to me.
“He’s a big inspiration in my life. He did a lot for me.”
Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and seven others died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.
“You could definitely feel (Bryant’s) presence just from the start,” James said. “From every moment from the fans chanting his name till you saw the numbers.
“Every time you saw Giannis’ team run on the floor, you saw the 2-4, so he was definitely here.”
Bryant was known for his competitive spirit, and the players dug deep and delivered a heck of a performance in the fourth quarter that would have made him proud as they literally had those in attendance on the edge of their seat down the stretch.
“I like (the new format), but it’ll be interesting to see what happens next, because the first time is always going to be a little bit different,” Cuban said. “But it was definitely fun — it was fun watching great players play hard against great players.
“That was something we’ve never seen, where you just see All-Stars like that go hard with some (extra playing) time. But we might have to fine-tune it, because when they couldn’t hit shots for a while there — I don’t know how many minutes-played that last quarter was, but it seemed like they played 25 minutes each and they weren’t subbing out.”
Doncic was the only starter for Team LeBron not on the court for the last half of the final quarter. But that mattered not to him or Cuban.
“It was great to watch,” Doncic said. “I didn’t want to be out there at that moment because I was cold. I couldn’t move.”
Cuban chimed in and said: “That’s not unusual. They let the vets play more.”
Behind 12 points from Leonard and nine from Davis, Team LeBron won the first quarter, 53-41. That meant $100,000 went to the Chicago Scholars charity, who wound up winning $400,000.
Team Giannis captured the second quarter, 51-30, after getting 14 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo and nine points from Kyle Lowry. That netted Afterschool Matters $100,000 in scholarships, and was highlighted by a halfcourt shot at the buzzer from Trae Young.
However, since the third quarter ended in a 41-41 tie, neither charity won the additional $100,000, which was pushed to the fourth quarter. That’s set the stage for the overall winner to bag an additional $300,000 for its charity.
Jason Kidd marveled at what Doncic was able to accomplish.
“When you talk to him you kind of forget that he’s 20 years old,” said Kidd, an assistant coach with Team LeBron and an All-Star with the Mavs in 1996 and 2010. “I know his birthday is coming up shortly (on Feb. 28) — I think it’s (while the Mavs are) in Miami.
“I just told him I wish I was getting an invite to his birthday party. But when you talk about someone 20 (years old) and can carry himself and understand that when he takes the floor that guys are coming (to defend him), he relishes that challenge.”
Doncic missed his first shot of the night – a step-back 3-pointer – early in the first quarter. The next time Doncic attempted a shot, he darted in from the 3-point line and dunked it.
Later, Doncic lobbed a perfect pass at the rim that Ben Simmons collected and dunked. Overall in the first quarter, Doncic had two points, one rebound and three assists, and was 1-of-2 from the field in eight minutes.
“He’s a special human being on and off the court,” Kidd said. “I got to spend some time with him at the NBA Cares program (on Friday). We were making book markers. He can color, too.”
Cuban believes Doncic will be an All-Star-Game regular for many years to come.
“I was thrilled with Luka,” Cuban said. “He came out unscarred, you can obviously tell he had fun, he was playing his way. Guys respected him, and he played with guys he looked up to.”
Briefly: Every player who played in the All-Star game wore either No. 2 or No. 24, with their name stitched on the lower back of their jersey. The No. 2 is the number worn by Kobe Bryant’s daughter, Gianna, while Bryant wore No. 24 for the majority of his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. The players on Team LeBron wore No. 2 and the players on Team Giannis wore No. 24 . . . As usual, there were a flood of celebrities who attended Sunday’s game. They include Cardi B, Chadwick Boseman, J. Cole, Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah, Spike Lee, Ludacris, Jon Stewart, Chris Tucker, Lil Wayne, Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West. Luka Doncic said he was checking out the celebrities sitting courtside and was particularly excited to see Cardi B. He also talked to J. Cole, who is a good friend of former Mavs guard Dennis Smith Jr . . . Chicago native Chaka Khan sang the national anthem, while another Chicago native, Chance The Rapper, opened the halftime festivities. Lil Wayne, DJ Khaled and Quavo also sang at the half . . . Luka Doncic sounded like he was going to take a vacation before having to be back at practice on Wednesday afternoon. “I can’t wait to get back, maybe to Dallas,” he said. Asked if he’s going some place, Doncic said: “I know, but I’ll keep that to me.”