Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, left, celebrates with Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic during the first half of the NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta. Antetokounmpo led Team LeBron to a 170-150 victory. Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

ATLANTA ­— Even in the strangest NBA All-Star Game of them all, LeBron James was still the perfect captain.

Team LeBron showed off its high-flying and long-range skills during a dominating run to close out the first half, setting up a 170-150 romp over Team Durant in the league’s 70th midseason showcase Sunday night.

This one sure was different than the previous 69 All-Star contests.

Determined to pull off an exhibition that is huge for TV revenue and the league’s worldwide brand, the NBA staged the game in a mostly empty arena in downtown Atlanta, a made-for-TV extravaganza that was symbolic of the coronavirus era.

James is now 4-0 as a captain, led this time by two former All-Star Game adversaries. Giannis Antetokounmpo was the game MVP after shooting 16 of 16 for 35 points. Stephen Curry chipped in with 28 points, while Damian Lillard had 32.

James spent most of the night admiring his drafting skill, playing less than 13 minutes and finishing with four points.

Jaylen Brown of the Celtics scored 22 points as a reserve for Team LeBron. Jayson Tatum started for Team Durant and scored 21 points.

The only good thing for Kevin Durant: He didn’t have to participate in this shellacking, sitting out the game because of an ailing hamstring.

Bradley Beal led Team Durant with 26 points.

On a night highlighting Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Team LeBron swept the first three quarters and was first to reach the final target score, earning a total of $750,000 for its charity, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

The game got out of hand late in the second quarter.

With scant defense being played, Team LeBron took turns dunking off alley-oop passes. Chris Paul delivered back-to-back lobs that Lillard and Curry slammed through. Then, it was Paul on the receiving end of a payback pass from Curry.

After showing they could handle shots up close, Team LeBron headed outside in the final seconds of the half.

Lillard pulled up for a 3-pointer from the half-court line. Not to be outdone, Curry knocked down one from virtually the same spot.

The atmosphere at State Farm Arena was downright eerie compared to a normal All-Star Game.

Instead of a packed house, with A-list celebrities crammed into prime courtside seats, this game was attended by a smattering of hand-picked guests. They had plenty of room to spread out in a 17,000-seat venue that was essentially transformed into a giant television studio, with socially distanced spectators kept far from the court.

Towering video screens were set up behind the benches. Vegas-style lights flashed around the arena. Recorded crowd noise blared over the sound system. The entertainment was provided by the host Atlanta Hawks, who didn’t have any players in the game but were represented by their cheerleaders, drum line and DJ.

To address fears that one of its biggest events would become a super-spreader for a virus that has killed more than a half-million Americans, the NBA pared down its usual weekend-long ritual of extravagant parties, gridlocked streets and people watching

This All-Star Game was a one-night-only event, with a pair of skill competitions held shortly before the game and the Dunk Contest squeezed into the halftime break. The players flew in Saturday afternoon and were largely confined to a nearby hotel except for their time on the court.

“This is when everyone in basketball all over the world comes to one city,” James said during a Zoom call before the game. “We’re able to sit back and go, `Wow, this is the game we have built.’ It’s a beautiful weekend for all walks of life, on the floor and off the floor.

“But I’m sitting here in my hotel room, isolated. My family’s not here. I’m by myself. It’s just different, to say the least, compared to previous years.”

SKILLS COMPETITION: Stephen Curry shot his way to another 3-point title and Domantas Sabonis made sure the Skills Challenge still belongs to the bigs.

Then Portland’s Anfernee Simons sealed his final, winning dunk with a kiss. Well, almost.

Curry, the Golden State Warriors superstar, provided a dramatic preview for his seventh All-Star Game appearance when he sank his final 3-pointer to edge Utah’s Mike Conley for the title on Sunday night. Curry also won the 3-point content in 2015.

Conley had the lead with 27 points before Curry was the final shooter of the contest. Curry had 26 points before sinking his final shot from the corner for 28 points and the win.

“I could hear the temperature rise a little bit,” Curry said of the reaction from the small crowd allowed in State Farm Arena.

“It was some awesome competition,” Curry said. “I’m glad I got it done.”

After a runner-up finish to 2020 Skills Challenge winner and fellow big man Bam Adebayo of Miami, Indiana’s Sabonis returned to win the title.

The 6-foot-11 Sabonis did not miss a pass or 3-point shot in elimination wins over Julius Randle of the New York Knicks and Luka Doncic of Dallas in the test of passing, ball-handling and shooting ability. Sabonis beat Orlando’s 7-foot Nikola Vucevic in the matchup of big men for the skills title. Each missed two 3-point shots before Sabonis sank his third attempt.

“It was fun,” Sabonis said. “I wanted to come out and make sure I got it done this time.”

Curry had 31 points in the first round of the 3-point contest. Also advancing were Jayson Tatum, with 25 points, and Conley, with 28.

Tatum led off the final round with 17 points while making only one shot from the “money ball” rack. Conley nearly duplicated his first-round total, and it appeared it might be enough until Curry solidified his reputation as one of the top shooters in NBA history.

Simons showed off his leaping ability and creativity to beat New York’s Obi Toppin and Indiana’s Cassius Stanley in the two-round dunk contest that started off with Stanley’s spectacular slam that received a surprisingly low score.

The 6-foot-3 Simons soared, almost kissing the rim, on a powerful right-handed jam to beat Toppin in the final. Simons puckered his lips as if kissing the rim, even though he was a few inches away.

“I tried to get close enough so obviously I wouldn’t hit my head on the rim too hard,” Simons said, before acknowledging he has never “actually kissed the rim” in practice.

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS teammates Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were ruled out of the All-Star Game after being flagged by coronavirus contact tracing, a development that prompted some players to question again why the exhibition was being played during a pandemic.

The 76ers and the NBA learned of the situation with Embiid and Simmons – it stemmed from getting haircuts – on Saturday night and made the decision that neither could play on Sunday morning, about nine hours before the scheduled tipoff.

“It’s just an unfortunate time in the world where our health and safety should be at the front of the helm,” All-Star Paul George of the Los Angeles Clippers said Sunday from Atlanta. “I personally didn’t agree with the game but, you know, it is what it is.”

A person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press that Embiid and Simmons have both tested negative for COVID-19, and that their barber has tested positive. Both saw the barber a day or two before before flying to Atlanta, said the person who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity Sunday because those details were not released publicly.

“It’s kind of messed up,” Washington All-Star Bradley Beal said. “It’s unfortunate.”

Embiid would have been a starter for Team Durant, while Simmons would have been a reserve for Team LeBron. New Orleans’ Zion Williamson started in Embiid’s place, and both teams had 11 players on the active rosters instead of the usual 12.

Embiid and Simmons are in Atlanta, though it was not immediately clear if they would have to remain there and quarantine or if they could leave and resume their All-Star break elsewhere.

NETS: Blake Griffin is joining the collection of stars in Brooklyn.

The six-time All-Star agreed to sign with the Nets, a person with knowledge of the details said Sunday.

Griffin became a free agent Friday when he completed a buyout agreement with the Detroit Pistons. He cleared waivers Sunday and was eligible to sign with any team.

The often-injured forward decided to join All-Stars Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden in Brooklyn, the person told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because there was no announcement.


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