By BRIAN MAHONEY
HOUSTON — LeBron James had the ball in his hands and a comeback on his mind.
Kobe Bryant blocked those plans — twice.
He may not leap like Blake Griffin, but Bryant can still get up when he needs to, especially when the defenseless part of the All-Star game is over and it’s time to stop somebody — even the league’s best player.
Bryant blocked James’ jumper, turning it into a dunk by Kevin Durant that helped the Western Conference put away the East 143-138 on Sunday.
On Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday, the players most often compared to him turned the final minutes into a 1-on-1 duel, and it went to Bryant — the guy Jordan said he’d pick between the two.
“It was a great block,” Durant said. “I haven’t really seen any MVP get a jumper blocked like that. It was a really great play.”
Chris Paul had 20 points, 15 assists and won MVP honors, and Durant scored 30 points. Griffin finished with 19, joining his Clippers teammate, Paul, in creating Lob City deep in the heart of Texas.
“You just want to play fast. I like to throw the lob. I like to see guys hit 3s,” Paul said. “When we’re out on the court with all that firepower, why wouldn’t you want to make passes? You’ve got KD filling one of the lanes, you’ve got Blake, Kobe on the wing. There’s nothing like it.”
Bryant added a second late block of James, the MVP of the 2006 game here after leading a big East comeback. This time, he scored 19 points but shot only 7 of 18 after making 60 percent of his shots in six straight games before the break.
“I’m known for my defense. I can defend. I’m pretty smart with my defense,” said Bryant, who got the nod from Jordan over James based on his five championship rings. That’s one less than MJ and four more than King James.
Carmelo Anthony led the East with 26 points and 12 rebounds.
“I think we played really good defense at the end of the game as a team,” Durant said. “Kobe was really going with the ball. It’s tough to stop LeBron, but he did his best. He was able to block a few of his shots. But CP did a really good job of keeping us in the game.”
The first dunk of the game came 16 seconds in, Paul throwing a pass to Griffin as part of the West’s 7-0 start. The West led after each of the first three quarters, though was never ahead by more than eight points through three periods.
They finally pushed it into double figures early in the fourth fueled by former Oklahoma City teammates Russell Westbrook and James Harden, but couldn’t put it away until a late run behind the guys from the city of Los Angeles — who along with Lakers center Dwight Howard gave Los Angeles all but one of the West’s starting spots.
Paul hit two 3-pointers, Bryant made a layup, and his block of James led to Durant’s dunk that made it 136-126. Griffin had one last forceful dunk to help close it out, throwing a pass to himself off the backboard and climbing high in his neon green sneakers to slam it home and make it 142-134.
Harden had 15 points in his home arena, where the sights of the game were on the floor and the sounds were at the rim — which shook repeatedly after thunderous dunks for most of the game before, as usual, players tried to make some stops down the stretch.
Players’ sneakers were a variety of pastels and fluorescent colors that looked like they came right from Easter Sunday church, many clashing so badly with their multi-colored socks that they may as well have been created by spilling out random paint buckets.
James and Dwyane Wade wore purple, and Griffin’s neon look was also sported by the usually not-so-loud Tim Duncan and Brook Lopez.
But the NBA’s high-flyers sure could leap in them.
Durant slammed one down so hard at one point that he stumbled backward after landing, appearing woozy. He came in as the career leader in points per game with 28.3 and may have won a second straight MVP award if not for Paul’s big finish.
But the Kobe-LeBron matchup down the stretch showed that even in an All-Star game, when it’s time to determine a winner, the 34-year-old Bryant is all business.
“It was all in good spirit, man. It was just two guys that love to compete, love to go at it. So I had a lot of fun,” said James, who at 28 has plenty of time to catch up to Jordan and Bryant in when it comes to NBA championships.
Bryant finished with only nine points but had eight assists. Griffin shot 9 of 11 from the field and didn’t miss until trying to violently throw one down from a few feet away from the basket.
Indiana’s Paul George scored 17 and Kyrie Irving had 15 for the East.
Not everybody had it so easy. Chris Bosh shot two airballs in the first quarter and was booed, tossed up another in the second, and had Tony Parker dribble the ball through his legs on defense. He was even pulled down the stretch by his own coach, Erik Spoelstra, right after Bryant blew right by him for a layup.
Bosh finished 3 of 9. Wade had 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting, the best performance of the three Heat players in the starting lineup. He and James helped the East pull out a two-point win in the 2006 game here, but the West didn’t play Bryant-level defense back then.
“Second time in Houston, it was great,” Wade said. “We didn’t get the win, but we are all winners, because all 24 of us are All-Stars. So it was great.”
There were plenty of laughs, players performing comedic skits and poking fun at each other on the Toyota Center’s massive overhead scoreboard. Even the celebrities that surrounded the court — Westbrook almost crashed into Beyonce and Jay-Z while trying for a first-half steal — seemed entertained.
Two of Houston’s biggest basketball stars, Hakeem Olajuwon and Yao Ming, who was honored after the first quarter, and Olympic gold medalists Usain Bolt and Gabby Douglas were among the athletes who weren’t in the game.
Players wore warmup jackets with patches commemorating their individual and team career accolades during a lengthy pregame that included a performance by Ne-Yo. They actually warmed up twice, needing to get loose again after watching and being introduced during the elaborate show.
The game capped a weekend of change in Texas, where David Stern presided over his final All-Star game as commissioner and players’ association executive director Billy Hunter was voted out of office — a result he seems likely to contest.
Boston’s Kevin Garnett said before coming to Houston he thought his 15th All-Star selection would be his last, and turned it over to the young guys early. He played only 6 minutes of the first half before calling it a night.
EAST ALL-STARS (138)
James 7-18 2-4 19, Bosh 3-9 0-0 6, Garnett 0-2 0-0 0, Wade 10-13 0-0 21, Anthony 8-14 7-9 26, Chandler 2-5 3-3 7, Irving 6-11 0-0 15, Deng 4-10 1-1 10, George 7-13 0-0 17, Noah 4-7 0-0 8, Holiday 3-6 0-0 6, Lopez 0-1 3-4 3. Totals 54-109 16-21 138.
WEST ALL-STARS (143)
Durant 13-24 1-1 30, Griffin 9-11 1-2 19, Howard 4-6 0-0 9, Paul 7-10 2-3 20, Bryant 4-9 1-2 9, Duncan 1-4 0-0 2, Parker 5-10 2-2 13, Harden 6-13 0-0 15, Randolph 3-6 0-0 6, Westbrook 7-13 0-0 14, Aldridge 0-2 0-0 0, Lee 3-4 0-0 6. Totals 62-112 7-10 143.
East All-Stars 26 39 39 34—138
West All-Stars 31 38 39 35—143
3-Point Goals—East All-Stars 14-39 (George 3-6, Irving 3-6, Anthony 3-7, James 3-7, Wade 1-2, Deng 1-5, Lopez 0-1, Holiday 0-2, Bosh 0-3), West All-Stars 12-32 (Paul 4-5, Harden 3-8, Durant 3-8, Howard 1-1, Parker 1-3, Duncan 0-1, Westbrook 0-3, Bryant 0-3). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—East All-Stars 61 (Anthony 12), West All-Stars 52 (Howard 7). Assists—East All-Stars 33 (Wade 7), West All-Stars 39 (Paul 15). Total Fouls—East All-Stars 10, West All-Stars 14. A—16,101 (18,023).