NEW YORK – After all the strange things happening to the underwhelming Oklahoma City Thunder, its fans could finally pull their hands away from their eyes.
Thunder guard Russell Westbrook scored the second-most points in All-Star Game history as the Western Conference held off the East 163-158 on Sunday.
Westbrook had 41 points, one fewer than Wilt Chamberlain in 1962 and one more than Michael Jordan in 1988. He was an easy choice for Most Valuable Player at Madison Square Garden.
It was Westbrook's game from the time he stepped on the court midway through the first quarter. By the time he sat down 11 minutes later, he had 27 points on 11-for-15 shooting, an All-Star record for points in a half.
"Westbrook came at it from the start," said LeBron James, who had 30 points, seven assists and five rebounds for the East. "He's an unbelievable talent in our league."
Not that there was exemplary defense.
For the second year in a row, there was an All-Star record for combined points, the teams' 323 topping last year's 318.
Still, Westbrook made five of nine three-point attempts and found plenty of other ways to score, including two dunks off alley-oop passes from Chris Paul. He made 16 of 28 shots and added five rebounds and three steals in 26 minutes.
He was within three points of tying Chamberlain with just under a minute left, but James Harden dribbled the ball too much up top and the West was called for a shot-clock violation. On the West's next possession, Paul's running jumper was off the mark.
Westbrook didn't show any disappointment, even though he knew he was close to the all-time mark.
"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," he said. "But I missed about six or seven layups. I definitely could have had it."
Westbrook's final points were two free throws with one second left after being fouled on purpose as the East tried to get the ball back.
Had the East won, there might have been a case to give the MVP to James, who moved into second place in career All-Star scoring, passing Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He now has 278 points, only two behind Kobe Bryant.
Kyle Korver was second-best on the East with 21 points, all from three-point range. Harden had a solid stat line for the West: 29 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
Carmelo Anthony, the hometown hero for the New York Knicks, had only 14 points on forgettable 6-for-20 shooting. He has been fighting a sore knee that probably will require season-ending surgery soon.
Knicks fans proved to have good short-term recall by booing West coach Steve Kerr during pregame introductions. Kerr was the first choice of Knicks President Phil Jackson but chose to coach Golden State instead of New York.
Knicks fans were much more appreciative toward former President Bill Clinton, who received loud cheers during the national anthem when he was shown two times on the scoreboard.
The cheers in the end were for Westbrook. His West teammates were impressed too.
"Any time you can score 40 points in an All-Star Game, that's pretty cool," Stephen Curry said.