NEW ORLEANS, Feb. 17, 2008 -- Chris Paul deserves a nice big bowl of gumbo after the performance he had in the East's 134-128 victory over the West in the 57th NBA All-Star game.

While he didn't get the win, Paul led the West all the way back from a 16-point third-quarter deficit to take the lead in the fourth and put up 16 points, 14 assists and four steals while making his first All-Star appearance.

It was the kind of leadership expected from a veteran point guard like Jason Kidd or Steve Nash, not a third-year player who was so nervous with anticipation leading up to tipoff that he couldn't eat before the game.

"I couldn't eat, I couldn't think about nothing," Paul said. "Me and [fellow first timer] Brandon Roy were sitting there talking when we were on the bus on the way to the game, we were like little kids. My stomach was churning and I didn't think I could keep food down."

He was dominant and controlling, but in an understated sort of a way. And like Paul Giamatti stealing scenes from bigger-name actors in every movie he's in, Paul - comma - Chris was on the court down the stretch while former league MVPs Nash and Allen Iverson, sat and watched.

Paul played the fourth quarter like a game of chess, knowing when to use which pieces. One trip down, it would be a lob to Amare Stoudemire; the next, a drive-and-kick to Roy; on another, a feed to Tim Duncan in the post.

He almost made all the right moves, if it wasn't for the offensive foul he was called for on Ray Allen with 46 seconds left and his team trailing by two.

Of course, if it wasn't for him, it never would have been a two-point game in the first place.

CP3 put up nine points and five assists in the fourth, having his hand directly involved in 20 of the West's 35 points in the final period.

This wasn't beginner's luck, this was The Natural.

"I think it's well-deserved for Chris Paul to be here," Stoudemire said. "He's one of the top point guards in the league."

Stoudemire and Roy scored 18 points apiece and contributed to the West's comeback, but really, it was all about Paul.

He called his own number at times, like he did by banging a three with 1:36 remaining to knot the game at 125-125, but also kept everybody involved.

If the West was able to complete the comeback and get the win, Paul probably would have been the game's MVP, even though it wasn't the individual award that he was after.

"You know what, Chris just wants to win," West coach Byron Scott said. "It's not in his nature to try to take over, especially on this stage right now ... Being this is his first time making the All-Star team, he tried to defer to other players."

The Western Conference All-Stars were big time Big Easy with the Hornets' Scott doing the coaching, and Chris Paul and David West doing the playing as first-time All-Stars. It's fitting that three Hornets headlined Sunday's game because this year more than any other, the NBA All-Star game was just as much about celebrating the city of New Orleans as it was showcasing the league's superstars.

Starting with Friday's Day of Service that featured NBA employees and more than 2,500 volunteers dedicating their time and efforts to rebuild the Crescent City, every aspect of the weekend was infused with a genuine N'Awlins vibe.

The musical acts were headlined by locals Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis.

During TV timeouts, the New Orleans Arena jumbotron would play video segments where the players would guess the meaning of cajun words like andouille (spicy sausage), po' boy (sandwich) and banquette (sidewalk).

The stage the players made their grand entrances on was so authentic looking with its wrought-iron gates, multi-colored bricks and Boubon-street like balcony, it could be re-sold by the league to any acting troupe that was looking to perform A Streetcar Named Desire.

Paul provided the perfect ending to a banner weekend for his city.

"I didn't know what to expect," Paul said. "I didn't know if I'd play five minutes, 10 minutes, anything like that. I think the total weekend was a success, especially with the community efforts and the people of New Orleans coming out and getting excited about the NBA and the way the NBA reached out to the community will be something I think I'll never forget."