NEW YORK — During an interview session over the weekend, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook was asked to name a player whose game he emulated as a child. His response was succinct and direct.
Westbrook is a singular talent, and there have been few, if any, players who can do all the things that he can. He is a dangerous shooter, a reckless penetrator, and an eccentric character. From his quirky clothing to his sometimes awkward interviews, Westbrook does not apologize for doing things his own way.
And in Sunday night's All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden, Westbrook's way was effective and efficient and nearly record-breaking. He made 16 of 28 shots and scored 41 points, leading the West to a 163-158 victory over the East in a game that included as much defense as the score indicates.
Westbrook fell 1 point shy of Wilt Chamberlain's All-Star Game record in 1962. Chamberlain scored 42 points in 37 minutes; Westbrook needed just 25 to get his 41.
The West had 42 assists on Sunday, and Westbrook had only one of them. But it didn't really matter. Afterward, he was smiling as he carried his Most Valuable Player trophy into the interview room. His voice was hoarse.
"It's definitely a blessing, man," Westbrook said. "You never want to take no games for granted, especially not an All-Star Game."
Westbrook went to the bench with 5:32 left in the fourth quarter, and it appeared his night was over. But he reentered with 2:38 left, and with smartphones putting information at everyone's fingertips, the crowd seemed to understand a record was in reach.
Westbrook said he was aware of the mark, but West coach Steve Kerr said he was not.
"We just knew he was hot," Kerr said.
Westbrook was fouled with 1.3 seconds left and the West leading, 161-158. He made his first free throw, and his second attempt arced high in the air before going in. Westbrook said he had tried to miss on purpose.
"But I guess I couldn't miss tonight, huh?" he said, smiling.
In fairness, not many players could miss. The final result set a record for most combined points in an All-Star Game — a mark that had stood for all of one year.
But this game is not about defense, and it does not pretend to be about defense. It is a collection of dunks, deep shots, and dazzling passes. It is more of a performance than a competition, and that is appropriate in this setting.
Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj performed a halftime show as flames shot out of a temporary stage. Former President Bill Clinton sang along during the national anthem. Rihanna sat in the front row and posed for selfies with young fans. And LeBron James caught up with Jay-Z before the second half began.
The show put on by Westbrook, though, was just as impressive as those that were more choreographed. He set an All-Star Game record by scoring 27 points in the opening half, breaking the old mark of 22. He made 11 of 15 field goal attempts in the half and drained three 3-pointers over a 31-second stretch in the second quarter, each seemingly deeper than the last.
After each made shot in that flurry, Westbrook turned and did a kind of shoulder shimmy as he stomped toward the other end of the floor. He tried a fourth 3-pointer on the next possession, just about 10 feet inside halfcourt, but it caromed off the rim.
"Russell Westbrook is one of the best talents, gifted talents this game has ever seen," said James, who led the East with 30 points. "He goes out every night and proves it."
Earlier in the weekend, Westbrook had said he viewed this All-Star gathering as a time to rest. After his 41-point, 28-shot effort, he was asked if he had stuck with his plan.
"I found a way to get some rest during timeouts, halftime," Westbrook said, "and when I was on the bench."