Pistons' Cunningham steals the show, named Rising Stars MVP

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Cleveland — Cade Cunningham showed a little bit of everything in the Rising Stars Challenge.

And he came away with the MVP award as well. Cunningham had two good games, and he led Team Barry to the victory in the three-game tournament, with a 25-20 win over Team Isiah on Saturday night at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.

Pistons guard Cade Cunningham, right, stands with honorary coach Rick Barry after being named MVP of the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday in Cleveland.

Cunningham was the catalyst with his ballhandling and scored five points, two rebounds and three assists in the final, along with 13 points, five rebounds and six assists in the semifinal win. He assisted on the final points, with a dish to Franz Wagner, who was fouled. Wagner made the winning free throw, and Team Barry celebrated. 

Winning MVP honors on the big stage against his peers was a huge boost for the rookie, the Pistons' No. 1 overall pick.  

"It means a lot. This is a game I was looking forward to, to being around so much much big-time talent, and just have fun but try to compete and go get a win," Cunningham said. "To bring the trophy home in my first All-Star Weekend really means a lot."

Team Isiah featured two other Pistons, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart, who also played well in both of their games. Cunningham was the difference-maker in the final, not just with his scoring, but his all-around game. 

Playing against two of his Pistons teammates in the final brought another level of competitiveness. 

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"We had been talking trash for two weeks," Cunningham said. "To meet up with them in the championship game was how it was supposed to play out, and now I'm going to flex on them with the win."

The format of the Rising Stars Challenge changed, expanding to four teams of seven players each, and each of the semifinal games capped at a winning score of 50 points, and in the title game, it was to 25 points, honoring the total of 75 points for the NBA's 75th anniversary season. 

Pistons guard Cade Cunningham drives against Team Payton's LaMelo Ball of the Charlotte Hornets during a semifinal of the NBA Rising Stars event in Cleveland.

The first semifinal game went down to the final basket, and in an exhibition of offense, Bey was a big contributor on both ends. He had 16 points, four rebounds, three assists, but he saved the best for last.

Bey scored his final points on a drive to bring Team Isiah within 49-48, and he followed with the play of the game, when he was isolated defending the Houston Rockets’ Jalen Green on the potential game-winning shot.

Green drove and tried to pull up for a jumper, but Bey blocked the shot and gave Team Isiah a final shot to win. The Memphis Grizzlies’ Desmond Bane was fouled on a drive to the basket and made both free throws, for a 50-49 winning score.

"It was the last stop, so the competitive juices started flowing at the end, and I wanted to help my team win,” Bey said.

Pistons forward Saddiq Bey drives against Team Worthy during a semifinal of the NBA Rising Stars event on Friday n Cleveland.

Isiah Stewart finished with 10 points and six rebounds for Team Isiah.

Green finished with 20 points and Jalen Suggs 16 points for Team Worthy.

In the second semifinal, Cunningham led the way with 13 points, five rebounds and six assists for Team Barry. He got into a good groove with eight straight points, including a pair of 3-pointers. He had an earlier three-point play, giving him 11 of Team Barry’s first 24 points.

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Evan Mobley had 13 points and eight rebounds.


Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard