HOUSTON: Kyrie Irving is widely considered a top-three point guard already and one day soon may even surpass Chris Paul as the league’s best. But for now, the league still belongs to the Los Angeles Clippers’ star.
Irving played well in his All-Star debut, but Paul had 20 points and 15 assists to earn his first Most Valuable Player award in the West’s 143-138 victory in Sunday’s All-Star game.
Irving had 15 points, four assists and three rebounds in 24 minutes, the most of any bench player in the East.
“This was the best weekend for me,” Irving said. “I’m tired right now, but being around all these great players and being at every event was definitely an experience of a lifetime.”
Irving has drawn comparisons to Paul since he entered the league last season. They’re both tremendous ball-handlers, both can shoot at a high percentage and both serve as the catalyst of their teams.
He told Kevin Durant early in the first quarter to get out and run following any basket by the East and he would do his best to get him the ball. Durant scored a game-high 30 points to become the first player in the history of the game to reach at least 30 in three consecutive All-Star games. His career scoring average of 28.8 points in four All-Star games is also the best in All-Star history. Durant put up 24 shots 31 minutes on Sunday.
“I played a lot of street basketball,” Durant said. “I played a lot of celebrity games. This is my type of ballgame, up and down.”
Paul made 7 of 10 shots, including an impressive 3-pointer over Joakim Noah, who has 11 inches on Paul and was the only player who didn’t realize players don’t defend in All-Star games. Noah was his typical hustling, defensive-minded self in his first All-Star appearance and seemed to enjoy chasing Paul around the court. His 3-pointer with 1:57 left put the West on top 139-128 and essentially clinched the victory and his MVP award.
“Pretty special. It’s something I’ve never done,” Paul said of the award. “And it’s something that I definitely coming into the game wasn’t trying to achieve or thinking that it might even be possible.”
The game capped a remarkable weekend for Irving, who dazzled in the Rising Stars game with 32 points on Friday, won the 3-point competition on Saturday and had big moments again on Sunday – even though he didn’t get the start.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra elected to start his own player, Chris Bosh, in place of injured point guard Rajon Rondo and moved LeBron James to point guard. James, of course, is a small forward, but Spoelstra used the opportunity to give the Heat three starters in the All-Star game.
Only it backfired when Bosh endured a miserable night. He launched three air balls, was abused defensively when two opposing point guards zipped passes between his legs and he inexplicably threw an inbounds pass half the length of the court – and directly at the Western Conference’s Tony Parker for a turnover. Bosh was 2 of 7 shooting in the first half with two turnovers and finished the night with 6 points and 3 turnovers.
There were whispers all weekend Irving and LeBron James would play sparingly together, if at all, while rumors persist James could return to Cleveland in 2014.
They shared the court for less than two minutes in the first half, but Irving started the second half at point guard and the pair played a total of 12 minutes, 21 seconds together. Irving was even on the floor for crucial minutes in the fourth quarter before the outcome was determined. Irving said he enjoyed playing alongside James.
“It was fun,” Irving said. “Seeing what he does out there and seeing his highlight dunks in person in real time was definitely an experience.”
James had 19 points and five assists, but was the victim of an impressive block in the fourth quarter when Kobe Bryant snagged the ball from the side, stripped it out and flipped ahead to Durant for an easy dunk.
Bryant had 9 points and 8 assists and told the rest of the West bench he wanted to defend James one-on-one in crunch time in the fourth quarter. He did it admirably. James said he wasn’t surprised when Bryant picked him up late in the game.
“He does it all the time,” James said. “I am absolutely not surprised. It was all in good spirit. It was just two guys who love to compete, love to go at it. It was a lot of fun.”
Irving embraced every moment of his first All-Star weekend, including the pregame introductions. He came out of a makeshift tunnel in the shape of a space rocket and stepped down the stairs with both arms raised in the air as R&B recording artist Ne-Yo performed throughout the introductions.
He did have one minor complaint, however – the game ball was too new.
“The ball was terrible. They definitely need to change that,” Irving said. “I don’t know if anybody has ever felt a new NBA ball, but it’s one of the most terrible feelings, especially for a player.”
When he left All-Star weekend last year following his appearances in the Rising Stars game and on All-Star Saturday Night, Irving said his goal was to return this year as an actual All-Star. Now that he has accomplished that, he said next year’s goal is to return as a starter.
“That’s obviously up to the fans,” Irving said. “It starts with getting more wins and it starts back at home in Cleveland.”