NEW ORLEANS — At halftime of what was a record-setting 2014 NBA All-Star game, Kyrie Irving wasn’t on anyone’s radar as far as the game’s MVP award was concerned.
By the time it was finished, he was the obvious choice.
Irving finished with 31 points, five rebounds and 14 assists, and was the catalyst for the East coming back from an 18-point second half deficit to get the 163-155 victory.
“It was definitely special,” Irving said afterward. “Just being out here with all these great athletes and playing in front of a great crowd in New Orleans, and then the game got competitive. As athletes we all want to make the game competitive, especially in an All-Star game. It could get out of hand, but both teams competed until the end. And the East wanted to win this one.”
Irving made sure of it. He scored 24 points and dished out seven of his assists in 21 second-half minutes, taking the game over at times while dazzling with his passing or ball-handling skills. One highlight saw him split two defenders and get into the lane, before finding a cutting LeBron James with a no-look bounce pass for a spectacular slam dunk finish. Another saw him break down Dwight Howard off the dribble, before finishing himself with a high-arcing shot.
The MVP ended up being well-deserved, but the fact that Irving put together a performance worthy of it seemed to surprise him as much as the rest of us.
“I didn’t give it any thought,” Irving said, when asked if he thought he might have had a shot at the award. “I just wanted to make the game competitive, go out there and compete. Like I said, I feel like that’s what all the fans want to see us do is just compete at the highest level.”
LeBron James is widely recognized as the game’s best player, and knows a little something about playing at the level Irving described. He succinctly described what Irving brings to the game, and seems to have known for a long time that he was indeed capable of putting together such a dominant effort on a court filled with the league’s best players.
“Kyrie is special,” he said. “It’s just that simple. He’s a very special basketball player, very smart basketball player. His ability to shoot the ball, get into the lane, make shots around the rim — he has a total package. And I’ve always known that. I’ve always witnessed that, ever since he was in high school.
“I’m extremely happy for him, extremely proud for him to receive this award,” James said. “It’s big time.”