A Changing of the Guard
Much of the talk surrounding the 63rd Annual All-Star Game in New Orleans this weekend was how the traditional All-Stars were starting to give way to the new generation. On Sunday night, Kyrie Irving fulfilled that prophecy, taking over the midseason classic in the fourth quarter and leading the East to a comeback win – taking MVP honors in the process.
The Cavaliers 21-year-old prodigy – known in Northeast Ohio as “Mr. Fourth Quarter” – earned his nickname in NOLA, notching 15 of his 31 points in the final period and helping the Eastern Conference overcome an 18-point deficit for the 163-155 win on Sunday night.
This weekend was Irving’s third appearance at All-Star Weekend in his three years in the league, and he’s dazzled the NBA establishment every season.
As a rookie, he scored 34 points – going 8-for-8 from long-distance – in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge in Orlando, taking home the MVP award. Last year in Houston, Kyrie took home the Foot Locker Three-Point title on Saturday night, topping Matt Bonner to take the title. The following night, in his first-ever All-Star appearance, Irving went 6-of-11 from the floor for 15 points to go with four assists and three boards, albeit in a losing effort to the West.
Irving was determined not to lose to the West again this year, and after a slow start, as he often does, Kyrie simply took over in the fourth quarter.
“It was definitely special, just being out there with all these great athletes and playing in front of a great crowd in New Orleans, and then the game got competitive,” smiled the former Blue Devil. “It could get out of hand, but both teams competed until the end. And the East wanted to win this one. We took this one personal a little bit.”
On the night, Kyrie went 14-for-17 from the field, including 3-of-6 from beyond the arc, adding 14 assists and five boards – the final rebound coming off the offensive glass to preserve a key possession for the East with 1:08 to play.
Kyrie became the second Cavalier in team history to win top honors at the All-Star Game and the second one to win it in New Orleans, joining his East teammate, LeBron James, who did so in 2008.
“Kyrie is special, it’s just that simple,” praised the former Cavalier. “He’s a very special basketball player, very smart basketball player. His ability to shoot the ball, get into the lane, make shots around the rim, he has the total package.”
As impressed as his Eastern Conference teammates were with Cleveland’s young star, Irving was equally wide-eyed in their company.
“There’s so many different MVPs out there on the floor and to be named MVP amongst all those great stars is truly an honor, it’s a blessing,” beamed Irving. “And I’m glad I get to bring it back to Cleveland.”
Irving came into the weekend with big numbers: leading all Eastern Conference point guards in scoring, putting up 20-plus points in 14 of his team’s final 17 games before the Break and owning the Cavs’ top five scoring games on the year. But maybe the biggest number was four – the length of the Wine and Gold’s win streak heading into the season’s second half.
“Coming into this weekend, (the Cavaliers) had a lot of momentum coming in as a team,” said Irving. “And regardless of whether I won MVP of this game or not, my focus is going to remain the same after the All-Star Break, and that’s trying to get as many wins as possible.”
While “Mr. Fourth Quarter” took another turn as “Mr. Mid-February,” his teammate here in New Orleans – Dion Waiters – also represented the Wine and Gold’s backcourt with style, notching 31 points in an epic second-half duel with Tim Hardaway Jr. in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night.
As for Irving, he’s running out of events to win at All-Star Weekend, but it’s safe to say he’ll be even more hungry for the hardware when the All-Star Game returns to New York City next season.
“Whatever they invite me to do, I’m willing to do it,” said Kyrie. “For me, it’s an enjoyment being here with my friends and family and being here with the NBA and representing them at the highest level.”
The Cavaliers’ burgeoning superstar will have even more friends and family when All-Star Weekend rolls around again next year. But before that, he’ll try to do something even more essential to his NBA ascension – guide the Wine and Gold to the postseason for the first time in his brilliant young career.
“For me, my focus level is just on my team,” Kyrie concluded. “That’s the most important thing at this point for me. How I can get myself better and how I can make my teammates better every single day.”
CavsTV Interview: 1-on-1 with Kyrie Irving