Russell Westbrook was the big cheese in the Big Apple on Sunday, leading the Western Conference to a 163-158 win over the Eastern Conference in the 2015 NBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden, and capturing the MVP award in the process.
The last time Westbrook was at the Garden, the four time NBA All-Star selection scored 40 points in 35 minutes in a 100-92 loss to the New York Knicks.
This time, the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard scored 41 points in only 26 minutes, and he wasn’t even a starter this year. In fact, he wasn’t even among the top five vote-getting guards this year, despite posting MVP-worthy numbers. He is averaging 25.8 points and 7.6 assists per game so far this season, the former being a career high.
But Westbrook started the game on the bench in favor of Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry, who is having quite the stellar season himself, with 23.6 points and 7.9 assists per game, neither of which are career highs.
It didn’t take long for Westbrook to get a chance to prove himself, though. Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr put him in the game with the Western Conference leading 28-18 with five minutes left in the first quarter.
It was still early in the game, but that was when the court became a Broadway stage, with the spotlight on Westbrook, who was already performing a one-man show, for the rest of game.
Even though the Eastern Conference team consisted of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and John Wall, who are the leading scorers on their respective teams, and four Atlanta Hawks, the second-best team in the league at the break, their combined shooting prowess was still not enough to combat Westbrook’s onslaught.
Pau Gasol won the opening tip-off for the East, and it seemed promising for them until there were just under seven minutes left in the first quarter, when the West took its first lead and never looked back.
The second quarter took an interesting turn, when the East, led by their reserves, came back from a 56-36 deficit to go into the locker room at halftime down 83-82. It was only because of Westbrook that the Western Conference never lost its lead. He scored 27 points, an All-Star Game record for points by halftime.
Westbrook didn’t return to the court until there were 5 minutes left in the third quarter, but he wasn’t going to let the fans forget about him. He contributed 14 points in the second half, which was much needed as the East kept it close thanks to the efforts of James, Anthony, and Wall, who scored 30, 14, and 19 respectively.
Alicia Keys once sang that the “concrete jungle is where dreams are made of” and Westbrook may have exemplified it best, a Western Conference reserve surprising everyone and going back to Oklahoma with an MVP trophy and a big bite out of the Big Apple.