LOS ANGELES – Goran Dragic had one thought Sunday as he pulled up to take his first shot in an All-Star game.
“I was talking to myself,’G, don’t shoot an airball, don’t shoot an airball,'” he said.
Not even close. Dragic made the shot, a 19-foot jumper, for Team LeBron to officially enter the scoring column as an All-Star.
They would be his only two points in a competitive game that ended with Team LeBron rallying for a 148-145 victory over Team Stephen at the Staples Center.
But it didn’t matter to Dragic, who could not have been happier even if he were the game’s MVP … and not James, who led his own team with 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists and won the award for the third time in his 15-year career.
“The first All-Star game for me in my life, it was an amazing feeling,” said Dragic, 31, who is in his 10th season. “I spent it with my family and I’m honored to be here.”
Team LeBron overcame a 13-point deficit in the final seven minutes and clamped down on Team Stephen late with defense not usually seen in an All-Star game
“I think myself and Steph we took it upon ourselves. … and we had to change the way this All-Star game was played,” James said about him and Stephen Curry, the two captains who picked their teams playground style. “The last couple of years this game wasn’t very competitive.
“It had a real-game feel to it.”
The winning team, the last two years, scored more than 190 points.
Dragic played 11:28 and grabbed two rebounds and had an assist while shooting 1 of 3. He played 6:04 in the first half and 5:24 of the fourth quarter before coming to the bench for good.
“I didn’t come to score 30 points, 20 points,” Dragic said. “I just said go with the flow and what happens, happens. The first shot went in, so I was happy.”
Only San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge (4:28) player fewer minutes than Dragic for Team LeBron. But that did not dampen the experience for the Heat captain and starting point guard.
General manger Andy Elisburg was part of the Heat contingent in Los Angeles this weekend to support Dragic. That also included teammates Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem.
“He’s been playing at an All-Star level for awhile so you’re happy he finally got the recognition of being an All-Star,” Elisburg said. “You really get a sense to appreciate how important it is for him, how much joy he had with it and the pride he has as a player.
“He’s always been an All-Star and I’m glad he got the recognition and he can say officially say, he is an All-Star.”
Dragic entered the game with 2:13 to play in the first quarter, the sixth sub for coach Dwane Casey. After a couple of trips downcourt in which he deferred, he decided it was time to get his.
Dragic took the ball downcourt, passed it off and got it back. He then started left, cut to the middle and pulled up for the shot.
By the time his first stint ended – he came out with 8:09 to play in the half – Dragic had two points, three rebounds and an assist. He added another rebound in the fourth quarter. When told he had four boards he was surprised.
“I got four rebounds? Really? That’s more than my average,” he said.
Actually, he was right on his season average.
As a member of the winning team, Dragic pocketed $100,000 for the weekend. A portion of that, though, went to treating his parents to a weekend in Los Angeles, including round-trip airfare from Turkey, where they were visiting Dragic’s brother, Zoran.
“My father asked how many people are in the hotel?” Dragic said. “I said people from all over the world come to see this game. My Dad was really proud and I was proud they were able to come and enjoy this game.”
Dragic was the first reserve that is not injured to be introduced. But after Kevin Hart mentioned that Dragic was a first-time All-Star and the first player from Slovenia to be named an All-Star he said:
“They gave him the nickname the Dragon, because like a Dragon his breath will kill you.”
Dragic soaked in the moment, saying one of his favorite moments was the introduction “especially when you get on the stage in front of so many people.”
Dragic is the ninth player in Heat history to make and All-Star game. He was the second injury replacement, taking the spot of Kevin Love, who was on Team LeBron. He is the first player from Slovenia to be an All-Star. Dragic has had better years – he is a averaging 17.4 points, 4.7 assists and 4.0 rebounds – but he finally was recognized, for his leadership and being the Heat’s best player since the start of the 2016-17 season. Wade calls Dragic the Heat’s “engine.”
“It’s really an honor to be the first Slovenian in the All-Star game,” he said. “For my career, too, this is going to be something that I’m going to talk to my children, my grandchildren [about]. I really am proud of this moment.”