As Blake Griffin appeared well on his way to capturing the Most Valuable Player award Sunday night at the NBA All-Star game, Kyrie Irving snuck in the back door and stole the show.
Irving tallied 24 of his 31 points in the second half as the East rallied from an 18-point deficit to defeat the West 163-155 at the Smoothie King Arena.
With Griffin relentlessly hammering the rims and finishing with 38 points and six rebounds, the West was seemingly coasting to an easy victory. But along came Irving, who wound up with a team-high 31 points and a game-high 14 assists.
“I was going out there and just trying to compete with the greatest athletes in the world,” Irving said. “We were trying to play as much defense as possible.”
Irving converted 14 of 17 baskets, including 3 of 6 3-pointers. He also claimed the game’s precious MVP, which many thought would land in the hands of Kevin Durant or LeBron James.
“This is a great honor,” Irving said. “We had a few MVPs and everyone out here is an MVP.”
While Irving was shining, as is his custom in these schoolyard type games, Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki played only 8:26 and did not play at all in the second half. Nowitzki went scoreless for the night, grabbed one rebound and was 0 of 2 from the field, including 0 of 1 from 3-point territory.
Irving’s 3-pointer with 2:16 left gave the East a 153-152 lead. Durant, who finished with 38 points and 10 rebounds, drilled a step-back one-legged fadeaway jumper over James to push the West back ahead 155-153.
But Paul George nailed three free throws after he was fouled by James Harden while attempting a 3-pointer. Carmelo Anthony (30 points) followed with a 3-pointer after a crucial offensive rebound by Irving.
James (22 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) then scored off a feed by Irving as the East went up 161-155 with 43.1 seconds to go.
Griffin got out of the gate at a blistering pace as he tallied 18 points in the first quarter and got the crowd worked up with his various assortment of dunks. Of the nine field goals Griffin converted in the first period, eight of them came via dunks.
And Griffin brought out nearly his entire arsenal of dunks, which were more impressive than virtually anything witnessed during Saturday’s dunk contest.
In the first quarter alone, Griffin executed a dunk off a feed from Kevin Durant, one off an alley-oop pass from Stephen Curry, a hammer dunk, and then a vicious windmill dunk.
Griffin’s Clipper teammate, Chris Paul, lobbed a pass high in the air, which Griffin caught and slammed home. Three more Griffin dunks tied the game at 40-40 late in the first period and gave him 18 points, two points shy of the single-quarter scoring record of 20 points set by Glen Rice in 1997.
Griffin, meanwhile, added three more dunks in the second half, including one off a fast break that gave the West a 145-142 lead with 5:43 remaining in the game.
The West led by as much as 18 points (113-95) with 6:53 left in the third period following a dunk by Griffin.
But the East scrambled back behind Irving in yet another dazzling performance by both teams.