HOUSTON – They name a “Most Valuable Player” after the NBA All-Star weekend’s “Rising Stars” game, although that terminology means something different here than in most other contexts.
Here, the contest was between Team Shaq and Team Chuck (former NBA greats Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley coached the team with their namesake). The Chucks crushed the Shaqs 163-135 Friday at Toyota Center in Houston. Both teams shot better than 61 percent from the field, and both scored at least 90 in the paint (Chuck edging Shaq 98-90 in that battle).
Denver Nuggets sophomore Kenneth Faried scored 40 points on 18-for-22 shooting and was named MVP. Other leading candidates were pretty much every other player who appeared in the game except for Andre Drummond, who ceremonially took the floor for 36 seconds even though he was injured.
“Me and my team came out focused,” Faried said.
He did not appear to be joking.
The game’s least impactful performance belonged to Tyler Zeller, who went 1-for-2 in 16 minutes and finished with four points. Ricky Rubio only had five points, but it was pretty obvious he had not entered the game with any scoring ambitions whatsoever. He spent his night dealing neat passes to guys running unopposed down the lane, and ended up with 10 assists and just one turnover.
Not including Drummond, Team Shaq had four players finish with fewer than 10 points (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker, Andrew Nicholson and Zeller), while Team Chuck had just Rubio, and maybe that was the difference in the game.
The game started off at the approximate pace of a group of middle-aged men who’ve already played five games at the YMCA and are ready to throw a game so they can get off the floor. The first play of the game was an uncontested dunk, and so was the second.
These kinds of events tend to be dominated by guards, since they’re the ones with the ball all the time, but this one did not have that feeling. Not for Team Chuck at least. Kawhi Leonard and Tristan Thompson both had 20 for Team Chuck, meaning the sophomores’ top three scorers were big guys.
“It’s usually guard heavy,” said Thompson, who plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers. “So when we were coming in we had to get stops in the paint especially with so much bigs. It feels good to get a win.”
The affair did take on sort of an And1 Mixtape quality late in the second half, which on a night like Friday would have to suffice if you wanted competition. The idea, for anyone unfamiliar, is to humiliate the man guarding you with a dribbling exhibition so intense that he is unable to guard you without falling down. This will delight the audience.
And this is what Kyrie Irving (Cavaliers) and Brandon Knight (Pistons) had going Friday. Irving delivered the knockout blow, shaking Knight so hard on a crossover that he did fall to the ground as Irving drained a long jumper. The crowd cheered. Knight crossed up Irving on the other end, too, though not to such a devastating degree, and not so effectively that he also made the shot.
“Just happened, honestly,” Irving said. “A couple plays down, going down the court with him. But more or less that kind of rivalry with me and B Knight has been happening since high school, since we started playing against each other. We were battling for the one and two spot in high school.”
Here, Irving is referring ostensibly to recruiting rankings. He won that competition, too, ranked the No. 1 point guard in the class of 2010 by Scout.com, two spots ahead of Knight (the No. 2 point guard in that class was Josh Selby, who is now in the NBA D-league).
Theatrics or not, though, everybody agreed that Faried was the star of the night, even if a couple of his field goals came in the final minute, after even the pretense of defense had been abandoned.
“He just played like he usually plays, 110 percent, 100 miles per hour, rebounding getting putbacks,” said Team Chuck’s Isaiah Thomas. “That’s what he’s good at.”