Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game was decided in large part by a point guard through whom the future of the league may travel, during a weekend when another point guard announced just why there’s a growing sense he, too, could dictate the shape of what’s to come in the years ahead.
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First and foremost was Chris Paul’s remarkable game. He dished 15 dimes, third in All-Star history behind Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas, and delivered another 20 points and four steals. It was a maestro’s performance that earned him the All-Star MVP Award and it helped lead the Western Conference to a 143-138 win over the East.
“Pretty special,” Paul said afterward. “Pretty special. It’s something that definitely coming into the game I wasn’t trying to achieve or thinking that it might even be possible.”
Added Kevin Durant: “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.”
It was a mesmerizing performance, one that stood out on a night when the game’s greatest put on show after show. There was Kobe Bryant going hard at LeBron James in the fourth quarter and serving up a jaw-dropping block that even shocked Durant.
“It was a great block,” Durant said. “I haven’t really seen any MVP get a jumper blocked like that.”
There were ridiculous dunks by guys like Blake Griffin and LeBron. There was Durant pouring in a game-high 30 points. There was Carmelo Anthony putting on a shooting display, Paul George making a case he belongs among the stars and Dwyane Wade silencing people like me who insist he’s losing a step. There was so much to enjoy, one could be forgiven for not adequately noticing just how surely Kyrie Irving announced his own arrival as a pillar of the game.
Irving might have gotten a lesson from Paul in the fourth quarter on how to take command of the moment, but he also, all weekend, gave some life to the idea percolating around the league that he has the talent and ceiling to be better even than CP3 — and sooner rather than later.
“It’s not if Kyrie will be better,” an Eastern Conference general manager told me. “It’s when.”
It’s a bold prediction, but it’s not an unreasonable one. Irving is not yet 21 years old, yet on this All-Star weekend he scored 32 points in the Rising Stars Challenge, won the 3-point contest and managed to step onto the floor with the big boys Sunday night and score 15 points. The stat sheet does not do justice to just how much he fit in on a floor with the game’s greatest stars.
The fact is, both Paul and Irving and their unique talents could end up organizing the landscape of the league going forward. That Paul is a Los Angeles Clipper rather than a Los Angeles Laker has a lot to do with the state of each of these organizations, and his presence, if he stays, will turn the Clippers into perpetual contenders who can continue to attract the right pieces. The league’s decision to nix the Paul trade to the Lakers and allow him to go to the Clippers two summers ago has a lot to do with the Lakers’ state of disarray and the Clippers’ state of excellence.
Don’t believe it? Why else would Kobe tweet out this weekend a complaint disguised as a joke: “At least lil @CP3 and baby Mamba can play together NBA can’t veto this one Ha!”
That’s old history, even if Paul’s All-Star Game performance reminded everyone how important that history is and will continue to be. But Irving, too, has a chance to shape the look of the league. His incredible skills, the same skills that shone through all weekend long, could play a large part in the very real possibility LeBron James could return to Cleveland after next season. Even if that doesn’t happen — and I think it will — Irving is so spectacularly talented you can build a championship team around him.
The future of the NBA really could go through those two point guards.
They say All-Star Games don’t matter, that they’re glorified exhibition games, that it’s more spectacle than sport. Maybe. But in the spectacle are always signs of what’s to come, and this week Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving showed us that what’s to come could be largely about them.