The Eastern Conference's Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates with the Kia NBA All-Star Game MVP trophy. (Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)
New Orleans — From an ode to basketball’s greatest winner to a new school of NBA players making their mark, Sunday’s All-Star game had its share of old and new flavor.
But some things, such as the traditional 43 minutes where defense isn’t an option followed by a competitive and furious finish, stayed true to form as the East rallied from an 18-point deficit to defeat the West, 163-155, at Smoothie King Center.
Magic Johnson and other legends led the All-Stars and the crowd with an impromptu rendition of “Happy Birthday” to Celtic great Bill Russell, who turned 80 Sunday. The 11-time NBA champion was greeted by the players after they saluted him.
“Bill Russell was one of them guys who paved the way for guys like myself and the guys that were out there,” Carmelo Anthony said. “So it’s just great to be part of that tonight.”
Then Anthony got hot, with his eight triples keeping the East afloat before his triple with a little under two minutes remaining gave them a four-point lead, breaking the previous record shared by LeBron James and Mark Price (six).
“One of the ball boys was telling me that,” Anthony said. “It was a great feeling, obviously my teammates knew that, they kept finding me so all I had to do was space the floor and make the shot.”
But his 30 points and five rebounds weren’t enough to seal his first MVP award, which was won by a player from another underwhelming Eastern Conference team—Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, who scored 31 with 14 assists in his second All-Star appearance.
“The East wanted to win this one, we took this one personal a bit,” Irving said. “You saw Kevin (Durant) and LeBron (James) going at it and me playing against Steph (Curry).”
He was more adept with handling new teammates than handling the MVP trophy, as he took some playful ribbing from James and Dwyane Wade, among others, about not holding it above his head for the initial photo opportunity. Irving sheepishly grinned when the ribbing caused laughter.
“They were telling me the proper All-Star pose,” Irving said. “They were telling me to hold it above my head and show the fans. I honestly thought I did the interview first.”
The two were able to help the East overcome nearly record-setting evenings from Durant and Blake Griffin, who each scored 38 points —four points short of the record set in 1962, held by Wilt Chamberlain.
Durant and Griffin’s onslaught helped the West to score 89 first half points, a record in the game. Durant’s 30.6 points-per-game average is the highest in All-Star history, as his 27 shots proved he wasn’t the least bit bashful about getting his attempts.
“When I get on that court, I’m not one of those guys that can cruise and not worry about the game. I just, I got to go out there and play the way I play,” Durant said.
Durant, whose current run since Russell Westbrook has been out has bordered on unfathomable, said it was almost a changing of the guard with so many new and young All-Stars. Irving, Washington’s John Wall, Golden State’s Stephen Curry were among some of the new kids on the block —along with Portland’s second-year guard Damian Lillard and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis.
“Guys like them, coming into the league and having a big impact and blessed enough to be All-Stars is tremendous honor for all of us,” Durant said.