June 21, 2018
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Chris Paul stands tall in West’s All-Star win

By MK Bower, The Sports Xchange

HOUSTON — Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul played his part, serving others so splendidly that he was a viable MVP candidate in the NBA All-Star Game without scoring at a clip typically reserved for MVPs.

However, when scoring was required, Paul did that, too, draining a 3-pointer to key a run that helped lead the Western Conference to a 143-138 victory over the Eastern Conference on Sunday night at Toyota Center.

Paul keyed a 7-0 spurt that turned a three-point edge into a 136-126 lead. The surge ended with a Kevin Durant breakaway dunk with 2:34 left to play. Just for good measure, Paul drained a 3-pointer with 1:57 to go as Bulls center Joakim Noah challenged him on a perimeter clear-out.

Paul finished with 20 points and game highs of 15 assists and four steals to earn MVP honors. Oklahoma City Thunder forward Durant became the first player in All-Star Game history to produce three consecutive 30-point games, finishing with 30 points. Durant added six rebounds.

“Pretty special. Pretty special,” Paul said of the honor. “It’s something I’ve never done. And it’s something that I definitely coming into the game, I wasn’t trying to achieve or thinking that it might even be possible.

“I told KD (Durant) in the first quarter, I said, ‘Man, if they score anything, you run. I’ll get you the ball, you score, I want to be the one to give it to you.’ In games like this, it’s so up-tempo and fast-paced, a guy like me that’s a facilitator, I enjoy (it).”

New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony paced the East with 26 points and 12 rebounds. Miami guard Dwyane Wade added 21 points, seven assists, two steals and two blocked shots for the East while his Heat teammate, forward LeBron James, added 19 points and five assists.

If there were an edge for the West, it was experience. With half of the players on the East roster making All-Star Game debuts, the West claimed a 69-65 halftime lead, then turned to its reserves to extend that edge to double digits after the East bench took hold in the third quarter.

All-Star Game vets Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs and Russell Westbrook of the Thunder helped the West take control. Even Houston Rockets guard James Harden, the lone All-Star Game rookie on the West, got into the act, sandwiching 3-pointers around a Westbrook transition basket to build the lead to 104-98 with 1:53 left in the third quarter.

Harden buried another 3-pointer early in the fourth, and the West later extended to a 119-109 advantage. But the inexperienced East bench, sparked by guards Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Jrue Holiday of the Philadelphia 76ers, clawed back and set the stage for the starters to handle the business of closing the game with a serious tone.

“If you’re playing true to the game, hopefully it’s close in the fourth quarter and you’re able to accomplish everything,” said East coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat. “A competitive basketball game, use your instincts, but also give the fans what they want to see.

“There’s been a lot of talk about the previous All-Star games. Certainly there were a lot of highlight plays, but mostly the guys brought it tonight.”

To little surprise, All-Stars renowned for facilitating filled that role to perfection in the opening half, particularly Paul, whose ball skills put teammates like Clippers forward Blake Griffin in position to finish rim assaults with vicious dunks.

Paul accounted for nine first-half assists, with seemingly all of them resulting in an alley-oop finish. Paul took some liberties with his ball-handling, yet no one seemed to mind given the resulting entertainment value. Griffin, for example, dunked home all six of his first-half baskets.

Sharing was rampant. Wade tallied six first-half assists. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant continued his recent and curious trend of getting teammates involved at the onset, closing the first half second only to Paul with seven assists. Bryant, whose 111 field goals coming into Sunday were the most in All-Star Game history, launched only nine shots, and he closed the contest with nine points and eight assists.

Such unselfishness opened the door for three-time scoring champion Durant to fire away before the break. Durant posted 19 first-half points on 12 field-goal attempts, almost twice as many as any West teammate.

Prior to the intermission, the teams combined to shoot 6-for-29 (20.7 percent) from behind the 3-point arc. Few seemed appalled by the inferior marksmanship, not with fast breaks yielding transition baskets in bunches. And with the league’s top talent on hand, uncontested shots at or near the rim produced 88 first-half points in the paint, 154 inside points overall.

Paul was largely responsible for setting that tone. That he was rewarded for his generosity spoke volumes on how widely his game is respected.

“He deserved it,” Durant said of Paul being selected MVP. “He had great passes, making steals, made big buckets. He played a hell of a game, and congratulations to him. It was a pleasure playing with him.”

ALL-STAR NOTEBOOK: Along with professional pride, there were other motivations as play.

“Fifty stacks, man,” Bulls center Joakim Noah said, referencing the $50,000 awarded to members of the winning team. “That’s a lot of stacks, man.”

The players on the losing team each earned $25,000.

— Houston Rockets guard James Harden made the most of his All-Star Game debut, posting 15 points and six rebounds despite uncertainty over his availability after he sprained his right ankle last week against the Warriors.

“It felt good to go out there and just play with all those great players,” Harden said. “For my first time, I tried to make as many shots as possible. I couldn’t make a layup, but I had a couple 3s fall, so it felt good.”

West coach Gregg Popovich spoke with Harden prior to the game and Harden shared that he had progressed rapidly enough to participate.

“He felt it was no problem,” Popovich said. “We tried to give him a little bit of extra time here in Houston.”

— At least one former teammate appreciated the opportunity to share a bench with Harden. Last season, Harden earned Sixth Man of the Year honors with Oklahoma City, but his offseason trade to the Rockets broke him away from Durant and Russell Westbrook.

“Playing with him today made me miss him a little bit,” Durant said of Harden. “I’m happy he was an All-Star, especially in the city he plays in. It was a lot of fun. I didn’t want it to be over.”


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