CP3 Takes the MVP

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For the third year running, and the fourth time in the past five years, the Western Conference All-Stars triumphed over their counterparts in the East. Chris Paul led the West, putting up 20 points, 15 assists, and 4 steals; deservedly taken home MVP honours, as the West were victorious, 143-138. The NBA’s top point-guard wowed the crowd some sick crossovers (Poor Chris Bosh!), a steady diet of alley-oops for his teammate Blake Griffin, and a couple dagger 3s late in the fourth. The shot of the game was undoubtedly his trifecta in the face of Joakim Noah. Noah, one of a handful of players trying to play defense, gave Paul just enough room to prevent himself getting beaten off the dribble, but after couple quick dribbles through his own legs, Paul swished through the 3.

But despite Paul’s brilliance all of the talk at the end of the game was about Kobe Bryant’s defense on LeBron James. Generally speaking players don’t try very hard at the defensive end in All-Star games—if you want to drive the hoop, you’re probably going to have that luxury. But, as we all know, Kobe’s ultra-competitive nature is unrivalled in the NBA. Perhaps it was his natural state of competitiveness that led him to play tight man-to-man defense on LeBron down the stretch—a desire to put his own imprint on a game in which he’d been offensively anonymous by his own high standards—but there may have been something else in play.

On Saturday night the great Michael Jordan turned 50, and for the weeks proceeding MJ’s milestone there’s been plenty of build-up. Fans and analysts have reminisced about their favourite Jordan moments, and of course, the question of which current NBAer can surpass Jordan for greatness has been evoked yet again. And Jordan kept the fire stoked with his answer to a question about who he’d take between LeBron and Kobe. Jordan, although praising both players, asserted “five beats one every time I look at it”.
 
 

LeBron was inevitably asked about his idol’s comments all weekend and responded definitely that his does not define himself by what others say about him. LeBron stated logically that Bill Russell’s 11 titles didn’t make him a better player than Jordan; or that Robert Horry’s 7, don’t make him better than Kobe.

But, of course, Kobe wanted to hammer home a point—even if it was just 5 minutes in an All-Star game. With the East trailing by 8 in the final quarter, LeBron moved to his left and went up for a jump shot. Kobe came in from the side and blocked James cleanly, leading to a Kevin Durant dunk at the other end that put the West up by 10. And Kobe continued to hound LeBron later in the quarter, blocking him again and forcing the ball out of bounds. Of course, Kobe’s 5-minute defensive cameo changes nothing. LeBron James is the better basketball player—the best basketball player on Planet Earth, infact—but Kobe, forever conscious of his legacy, seemed determined to show the world that he’s the closest thing to Jordan we’ve seen in the NBA. And to be fair, given the Lakers’ ineptitude, that’s probably the last time Kobe will get a chance to test his skills against LeBron this year.

But James wasn’t at his mercurial best in this game. He struggled early on, with his Miami teammate Dwayne Wade keeping the East afloat in the first half. LeBron picked things up at the start of the 3rd quarter, but was outplayed in this game by his opponent at the small forward position: Kevin Durant. Durant, as everyone points out, is built for All-Star games. When you can shoot from anywhere on the floor, and over everyone, it’s not hard to rack up the points. Durant finished with 30 and became the first player in All-Star history to score 30 points in 3 consecutive All-Star games. And Durant left everyone wondering whether should put his name in the hat for next year’s slam-dunk contest. A number of his dunks in this game would’ve given Saturday’s night’s contestants a run for their money.

If the All-Star game was made for guys like Durant, it unfortunately wasn’t made for power forwards and centres. Chris Bosh had a night to forget. He put up 2 air balls in the first half, and was humiliated 3 times off the dribble. Both Paul and Parker put the ball through his legs, and later in the second half Kobe crossed him over leading to an easy lay-up. Bosh’s rough night underlined an important lesson for all big men playing in an All-Star game: give speedy guards plenty of space. Bosh made the mistake of trying to play to tight on Paul and Parker, when the best thing to do is let them have enough space to take the jumper, and save your pride in the process.
 
 

But ultimately this game will be remembered for Chris Paul’s brilliance. Kyrie Irving, who had an outstanding weekend from start to finish, is undoubtedly the point-guard of the future, but Paul showed the world last night why he’s still the premiere floor general in the NBA. His handles may not be quite as tight as Irving’s—although they’re pretty darn good—but his vision on floor and ability to get any shot he wants, at any time he wants, is still unmatched. If he can stay healthy for the playoffs the Clippers have a legitimate shot at winning it all. Kobe may be a top-10 player of all time—and he’ll take major plaudits for his defense on LeBron last night—but Paul is the best player in Los Angeles right now. He has a real chance to add the Larry O’Brien trophy to the hardware he deservedly won last night.
 
 
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