Kyrie Irving was the number one overall pick in last year’s NBA draft, but he was largely selected there for his ability to create for his teammates first, with his scoring being an afterthought. In the Rising Stars Challenge, which kicked off All-Star weekend on Friday, he showcased what’s possible for him offensively, scoring 34 points on just 13 shots to take home the event’s MVP trophy, while leading his team to an easy 146-133 victory at the Amway Center in Orlando.
Irving finished the night 12-for-13 from the field, while making all eight of his three-point attempts. It was a great performance, but one that he wish had occurred in a game that actually counted in the standings.
“It’s never occurred in my career,” he said of his shooting. “It’s kind of unfortunate that it comes in an All-Star game, but at the end of the day, it was fun to get out there with those talented guys. It was a great experience.”
While Irving’s shooting display was fantastic, overall the game was lacking in any real interest. The players largely played at half-speed or worse for the majority of the night, and the highlights — even when they were spectacular, as Ricky Rubio was in going through the legs of DeMarcus Cousins with the dribble before finding Blake Griffin for the alley-oop slam — weren’t frequent enough to keep the crowd from breaking its silence for most of the night.
This event has historically been a game which had stars of the Rookie and Sophomore classes playing against one another, but the league tried to infuse some life into it this year by having Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley mix the two classes, and draft the teams ahead of time playground-style. It may have generated additional interest in the days leading up to the event, but ultimately, with nothing on the line and with the fans in the building having no loyalty except to individual players, there was little-to-no effort made by either team to actually compete.
As usual, the game devolved into a slam dunk show in the final couple of minutes, with most players standing around while players took turns attempting ridiculous dunks. Last year’s MVP, John Wall, converted the best of the bunch, going behind his back with the ball while in mid-air before throwing it down one-handed — a dunk he said he’s converted only two times previously.
“I tried it once before in the Chris Paul All-Star game,” Wall said. “I just wanted to try it again, and luckily I made it. It was only my third time ever doing it, so I was shocked.”
Wall also had one of his dunk attempts thwarted by Greg Monroe, who surprised everyone by intercepting Wall’s bounce pass of the floor to himself while everyone else stood and watched.
There were other highlights, of course, but none as consistently satisfying as Irving’s stellar shooting. He knew it was a special night even while it was happening, doing the Jordan shrug a few times after knocking down three-pointer number eight.
“In the first half, when I hit four threes in a row, I just kept telling ’em, I’m feeling it,” Irving said. “I’m proud of them for actually having confidence in me.
“It’s fun getting hot, especially in an All-Star game where millions of people are watching. It was an enjoyable game.”