All-star games are typically mirthless affairs characterized by lots of empty effort, like dinner with your in-laws or a network comedy. Last night all that changed thanks to LeBron James, the NBA’s new players-inspired format and some uncommon defensive intensity. Of course, there were plenty of old-fashioned highlights as well.

LeBron James led the way, on the court and off, inspiring his team to play hard and coming within two assists of a triple-double. James had a game-high 29 points and four three-pointers, as well as a team-high ten rebounds and eight assists.

He also teamed with Kevin Durant to smother Steph Curry’s game-tying shot like a lobotomized Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

New format rules

Rather than pair teams off by conferences, as they had the past three decades, this year’s all-star teams were chosen like pickup squads at the neighborhood court. The top vote-getters in each conference, LeBron James, and Steph Curry, were named captains and picked their squads from the remaining 22 players. (Did anyone get a heads up that Jimmy Butler on Steph’s team was going to show up but ask not to play because of a sore knee? Talk about a wasted pick!)

As leaders of their titular teams, there was a modicum of pride on the line for both Curry and James.

The NBA also widened the win/loss disparity, with winners getting a $25,000 boost to $100,000 from the loser’s take, which was cut in half. There was also a disparity in gifts for the winning and losing teams’ charities, with $350,000 going to After-School All-Stars Los Angeles and $150,000 going to Brotherhood Crusade.

More defense better than none

The game wasn’t a defensive battle by any stretch of the imagination: Steph’s team led 78-76 at halftime But consider, last year’s halftime score was 97-92. You’d hardly be pressed to come up with a better defense than that if you were standing over a dead man holding the still-smoking murder weapon.

One of the best metrics of the improved defensive effort was that by half there had been more free throws in the game (11) than entire last all-star game (8). This is a good point to note that Steph’s team shot all the free throws, a decent indication of the disparity in effort between the two teams.

It didn’t help that James’ team was especially short-handed, having lost four players – Kristaps Porzingis, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Love, John Wall – to injury the past two weeks. But they made up for it with effort, finishing the game with 18 personal fouls to 8 by Steph’s team, and a 22-6 disparity in free throws.

Coffee is for closers

Despite outshooting Steph’s team 51% to 41% in the first half, LeBron’s team trailed by as much as 15 in the second quarter before closing to within a basket.

LeBron's team pulled to within one on an Andre Drummond alley-oop to open the fourth quarter, when Steph’s team went on a 21-9 run to open up a 13-point lead with just under seven minutes left, as Damian Lillard, Al Horford and Demar DeRozan each contributed a couple hoops.

Somehow James’s team answered with a 28-12 run of their own, led by Russell Westbrook and LeBron James with eight and Paul George with consecutive threes to get the comeback started. Trailing 144-141 after a Joel Embiid hook shot, James had the Sixers center covering him on defense when he hit the tying step-back three with 90 seconds left.

After a ridiculous blown call gave the ball back to Steph’s team with just over a minute left, followed by a George layup that Embiid swatted away at the last second and a single DeRozan free throw, Steph's team held a 145-144 lead.

Then Irving drove baseline and found a cutting James for a finger roll and the 146-145 lead. A Westbrook layup pushed the margin to three with ten seconds left.

No soup for you

Curry seemed intent on taking the game-winning shot himself, but Durant and James both pressed and corralled him into the right corner where their length made it impossible for him to get a shot off before the horn sounded. Behind him, Steph’s teammate Kyle Lowry could be seen frantically encouraging him to call a timeout to no avail.

In the end, the All-star game came down to a great defensive possession, probably the most unlikely outcome of all. Most less surprising it was James’ winning his third Allstar MVP. DeRozan and Lillard were the leading scorers for Steph's team with 21 points apiece.