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It’s not exactly an annual tradition, but the Cavaliers always seem to put on a great show in the Rookie-Sophomore Game at All-Star Weekend. Dion Waiters joined that perennial list on Friday night in New Orleans – going toe-to-toe with New York’s Tim Hardaway in a scintillating second-half shootout.
Waiters, who came off the bench for Team Hill in this year’s BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge, got off to a measured start in Friday night’s affair – finishing the first half with eight points and a team-high four assists.
But after intermission, the Eastern Conference’s top-scoring reserve simply caught fire – scoring 23 points in just over 13 minutes and finishing with 31 on the night. Waiters didn’t win MVP honors on Friday – that award went to Detroit’s Andre Drummond, who finished with 30 points and 25 boards. But his (and Drummond’s) squad did come away with the 142-136 win.
The Waiters-Hardaway battle began late in the first half, but it actually all started at Madison Square Garden about three weeks ago.
In that Jan. 30 game, a forgettable 31-point loss for the Wine and Gold, Hardaway hit a three-pointer late in the game that stuck in Waiters’ memory.
“I told (Hardaway) I owed him from being at the TNT game, and they were beating us pretty bad. There was like 15 seconds left, and he came down and chucked up a three and made it. I told him, ‘I’m going to get you back. I’m going to get you back for that.’ And I was able to get my chance tonight.”
The second-stanza flurry began with just under nine minutes to play in the game. Hardaway canned a three-pointer to get the juices flowing. Over the next three minutes, the duo combined to score 31 points – the final dozen on dueling treys that had the crowd – including Kyrie Irving and former Cavalier Daniel Gibson – literally coming out of their seats over the action.
“In the second half, he came down and made a shot; I came down and made a shot; he came down made a shot; I came down and made a shot. And once the crowd got into it, I knew it was on.”
Waiters’ Wine and Gold fan club – Irving and Gibson – know the feeling of dominance at the Rookie-Sophomore game. Two years ago, Irving won MVP honors as a rookie, going 8-for-8 from three-point range and 12-of-13 overall and finishing with 34 points. (Tristan Thompson led Team Shaq with 20 points in that same game.)
Daniel Gibson won the MVP trophy right here in New Orleans back in 2008, coming off the bench to hit 11 three-pointers en route to a 33-point performance. Zydrunas Ilguaskas also was named MVP at All-Star Weekend in New York back in 1998, leading four Cavalier rookies in that game.
But tonight’s game was all about the sophomore guard from Syracuse, who also shared the wealth – handing out a team-leading seven helpers in the win.
“Yeah, a lot of people don’t get to see that I can (pass the ball well),” said Waiters – who was voted one of the league’s best passers in the NBA’s preseason GM Survey. “I just want to go out there and show that I can pass the ball, and everybody’s starting to see it.”
Dion now passes the All-Star torch to his backcourt mate, Kyrie Irving, who will defend his title in the Foot Locker Three-Point Shootout on Saturday night and makes his first career start for the Eastern Conference squad on Sunday.
For the remainder of this weekend, Dion can enjoy his time in the Big Easy and look forward to the Cavaliers second half – after closing out the first 53 on a four-game win streak. And when the Wine and Gold return to action on Tuesday in Waiters’ hometown, he sees the Cavaliers making a playoff push.
“We have to, we have no other choice,” concluded Waiters. “These last 30 games, I feel like we can make a push for the playoffs. We’re only two games back and it’s right there for us. I really believe that our time is now and we’re gelling at the right time.
“We have to take it.”
CavsTV Exclusive Interview: Dion Waiters