The NBA All-Star Game normally plays out like a classic college house party. The first 75% normally consists of running around, dancing, tossing jokes and bullshitting. Then, without anyone saying word, in true unwritten code form, the last 20 minutes are spent with one purpose in mind. Winning. The same sort of logic applies to the NBA All-Star Game.
Last night’s contest was no different. There was Kevin Durant taking full advantage of less defense than most groupies presented the entire weekend. Blake Griffin caught several alley oops, about as surprising as every every girl you knew DVR’ing/TiVo’ing the Beyonce documentary. Dwight Howard gave one of the more awkward in-game interviews in the history of mankind. Tim Duncan played the absolute minimum amount of minutes much to the delight of Greg Popovich…and Tim Duncan. And James Harden proved quite the host while seeing him, Russell Westbrook and Durant running together again provided a sense of nostalgia we’ll probably be talking about 10 years down the road on some “remember when those three were on the same team?!?” train of thought.
Then, the fourth quarter came around and laughs turned into elbows and a lack of effort translated into an all out sprint to the finish line. And in a game full of all-stars, two superstars flipped on the switch. The switch my best friend Brad – who was in town for his bachelor party this weekend – saw coming from Kobe a mile away. And the switch both of us saw coming in Chris Paul. Follow along.
Kobe Bryant Vs. LeBron James
Watching Kobe/LeBron games with Brad always plays out fun. The guy’s been one of the biggest Kobe fans as long as I can remember, even before his All That appearance way back when. In recent years, the match ups between “5 vs. 1” always involve the same recipe. We don’t trash talk much. Hell, we don’t talk to each other much period. Yet, when LeBron James checked back into the game around midway through the fourth, Brad pointed out something I wasn’t paying much attention to likely because I was already on my third Crown and Coke.
Kobe was full-court pressing LeBron.
The game ended up playing heavily in Kobe’s favor if you’re one of those public perception people. Bean stuck to LeBron like one of those birds who sticks to a rhino in the wild never moving despite the rhino’s moves. Kobe blocked a shot from LeBron leading to a Durant breakaway dunk. And then blocked him again. The matchup was interesting for three reasons.
One, Kobe seemed to take the matchup to heart given the week that’s been surrounded by an infinite amount LeBron/Jordan comparisons and Mike’s admission of following James as his own personal human case study on how to guard the game’s current best player. Two, because it appeared as if LeBron left every damn there was to give in Biscayne Bay. And three – I’ll probably have a price on my head in Inglewood after this – it was the best defense Kobe had played all season.
Kobe’s manic complex to prove to the world his own standing in the game’s hierarchy was one of those moments his entire career has been based upon. You could see it in Kobe’s eyes. He wanted the matchup. He needed to prove a point. He needed to prove once again despite LeBron’s current reign of terror on the league, he was (and still is) seen as the closest carbon copy to you-know-who since you-know-who retired.* And he did. It was like he was one of those Russian sleeper cell spies, only his employer wasn’t Russia. It was Jordan.
Following the game, I asked Brad his thoughts on Kobe’s defense on LeBron. “It was fun to watch. You could tell he was doing it because he felt he wanted to prove a point. But it really doesn’t mean much, if anything, in the long run,” he said. “It was an exhibition. They’re going to make more of this than what it needs to be.”
And maybe he’s right. It’s not like LeBron has struggled against Kobe and the Lakers this season. He’s only averaged 35.5 points, seven rebounds, six assists, three steals, 67% FG, a 2-0 record and the same sort of skinny jeans-tight defense on Kobe in their January 17 game in L.A.
* – This is also because LeBron’s game is are nearly night and day when it comes to Kobe and Jordan’s. That’s only the 675,987th time I’ve said that in my life.
Chris Paul Vs. The World
First and foremost, if there was any doubt as to who Kyrie Irving was prior to Friday, the question’s been answered. He caught Brandon Knight slipping, literally, Friday night. The Three Point Contest was his own personal playground Saturday night. By Sunday’s end, Uncle Drew’s confidence playing alongside the game’s biggest and brightest took on the feel of another pickup game. He drove, dished and knocked down long range jumpers, basically stamping his trip to New Orleans a year in advance.
It’s still Chris Paul’s world though. And if we’re lucky, we’ll all be beneficiaries to one of his assists.
Finishing the game with 20 points, 15 dimes and four steals, at the very least, CP3 accounted for 50 points in the West’s 143-138 victory. There were moments in the game where it literally felt as if Paul was playing with the basketball on a yoyo string. He commanded the game and dictated the break with such ease that while Lakers fans were celebrating Kobe’s obsessive girlfriend-like defense, Paul masquerading as musical on-court conductor was sickening.
The only thing to compare it to would be Lakers fans being Mashonda, Clippers fans/David Stern being Swizz Beatz and CP3 being Alicia Keys. Only Chris hasn’t done anything as annoying as “Girl On Fire.”* Each time Chris dished off an assist or nailed a three, the only thing Brad would say with an emotionless look on his face was, “Bullshit. He’s supposed to be a Laker.”
Ill-wise aside, Chris Paul taking home MVP was a return and confirmation of the thought that was been long-since considered as truth. Paul is the game’s premiere floor general and a teammate players around the league would likely sacrifice their favorite groupie to play alongside (except Julius Hodge). Joakim Noah, especially, because then stuff like this would never happen.
With Kyrie and CP3 on the court for the fourth, Brad and I came to an agreement. Irving would own the NBA one day soon, or at the very least, his position. However, when the All-Star Game became a game for bragging rights, the “elder statesmen” Chris Paul** turned into full-fledged dog-mode. There came to a point where we began calling his shots for him – pull up jumper, drive to the basket, alley to Blake, corner three. Had we decided to take shots of Crown every time we called what would happen from Chris before it actually did, I would’ve slept with a pillow beside the toilet. The only thing we missed was him dribbling through Chris Bosh’s legs.
Another awesome trait about Paul was making sure his son – known league and fan-wide as “Lil’ Chris” – was along for the entire ride. I don’t know CP3 personally, and I never will, which is fine. Seeing him not only accept the role of being a father (and godfather in a sense), but enjoy it in the process is dope beyond words. That earns more respect from me than any of his 15 assists Sunday night or any lob he’ll ever leave suspended in the air for Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan. Being a great father is to be expected despite otherwise, but being a great father should always be celebrated.
Now, with the remainder of the season being an all-out brawl for playoff positioning, Paul’s finest art may not even yet be on the canvas. Welcome to the second half of the NBA season, ladies and gentlemen. Where boys become men. Superstars become MVPs. And MVPs become icons. I love this game.
** – This isn’t any shade either. I love Alicia. I just hate that damn song.
** – CP3’s not even 30 yet, by the way.
- Geek & Sci-Fi