NEW ORLEANS – Kyrie Irving found himself in an unexpected place Sunday night, benefiting from unsolicited advice.
“It was just a combination of all the All-Stars there, all those great guys, they were just telling me the proper All-Star pose,” said Irving, the Cleveland Cavaliers point guard that scored 31 points, passed out 14 assists, helped orchestrate a comeback of 18 points in the Eastern Conference’s 163-155 victory at the Smoothie King Center, was named the Most Valuable Player … and still wasn’t ready for his close-up.
All-Star pose? This called for the MVP pose, young man. And that’s when LeBron James and some other All-Stars coached Irving up a little.
“They were telling me to hold it above my head,” Irving said of the spiffy, etched glass trophy handed to him by new NBA commissioner Adam Silver in the heady minutes after the final horn. “I honestly thought I did the interview first. Some of the All-Star Games I watched before, the MVPs usually did the interview and hold it up. But I guess I was wrong.”
Said James, a two-time All-Star MVP while still in Cleveland (2008, 2006): “I just wanted him to have his moment, and the moment is holding that trophy above your head. It’s the few moments in our year where you do that. [It’s] winning a championship, it’s winning the MVP, the other [moment] is winning the MVP of the All-Star Game. … Seemed like he didn’t know exactly what to do, and I just wanted to try to give him a little tip.”
It was sweet that his friends, and James in particular, were eager for Irving to savor the moment. The Cleveland point guard has spent the first half of the 2013-14 season, and much of his career, lugging around the past and the future, the Cavs’ disappointing performance (20-33, bad enough to get GM Chris Grant fired) and questions about his long-term whereabouts.
It was nice, then, for Irving to live in the present for a minute. And to nail it.
“Man, he put on a show,” Miami’s Dwyane Wade said. “I said, ‘Forget a dunk contest, do a layup contest and he’ll win it.’ He’s got so much pizzazz when it comes to laying the ball up. He just did an unbelievable job of taking over and making big shots for us. He deserved the MVP tonight. Because of him, we’re all smiling a little bigger.”
Exhibitions or not, the East was aware that the West had a three-year winning streak and, halfway through, was looking to make it four. Led by Kevin Durant‘s shooting and Blake Griffin‘s throwdowns – the two combined for 42 points by the break, on their way to scoring 38 each – the West led 89-75. With 4:33 left in the third quarter, the gap was 123-105, and it looked as if the only serious competition was going to be which All-Star could get home fastest on his chartered jet.
But the East got busy, scoring 18 of the final 21 points in the third to get within three. In the fourth, Irving stayed in for all 12 minutes, sank seven of his nine shots and scored 15 points. He had help: James working some pick-and-roll action with Chicago center Joakim Noah, New York’s Carmelo Anthony draining two more of his All-Star record eight 3-pointers. Indiana’s defensive-minded coach, Frank Vogel, got the East – after it shot 72.4 percent in the third quarter (21-for-29) – to lock in on the other end in the fourth and the West went mere mortal, missing 17 of its final 27 shots.
Still, Irving, one of the game’s slightest and youngest players, did the heaviest lifting. Right through the postgame session, when he raised the trophy high. After winning the Rising Stars MVP as a rookie in 2012 and the 3-point shootout on All-Star Saturday last year, Irving got eight of the 13 MVP votes cast by media members and fans. Durant and Anthony each received two and James one.
Reality will come calling soon enough (though the Cavs won four in a row heading into the break, offering a little momentum if they seize it). For now, Irving and Cleveland had the moment.
“I don’t think they needed Kyrie Irving to win this to have a good vibe,” James said. “I think they know they have someone special. He’s very special.
“I just think it probably adds a cherry on top for him to receive this award. Not only for the Cavs but for Duke, St. Patrick’s [High in Elizabeth, N.J.] and everywhere he’s played. Being as young as he is, his second All-Star appearance and to be able to come out with the MVP just validates and solidifies why he’s in this game and why he’s one of the best point guards that we have in our league today.”
The best anything, actually, in this particular moment.