It was billed as Charles vs. Shaq. A battle of NBA personalities with pride and bragging rights very squarely on the line.
All the pomp and circumstance of this made-for-TV general manager rivalry played out before the game. What happened on the court was the sloppy, dunk-filled, shot-filled, defenseless exhibition game... that is so darn entertaining.
Two minutes into the game Jeremy Lin threw up a lob to Blake Girffin that set the tone for the dunk-fest that is the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge. Ricky Rubio added his own lob to Griffin in the second half. DeMarcus Cousins ran the floor early to establish a tone inside and very very very very little defense was played.
It was at times hard to watch, at times awe-inspiring. In the end, size proved that it still matters even in a game dominated by guards. Charles Barkley's draft strategy topped Shaquille O'Neal's guard-heavy lineup 146-133 to kick off the All-Star festivities at Amway Center.
Kyrie Irving was named the game's MVP after 34 points on 12-for-13 shooting and hitting eight 3-pointers. His opponent for the evening and real teammate, Tristan Thompson was hopeful this Irving shows up when the Cavaliers start playing for real again.
"We both represent the Cavaliers organization and he did a great job on his part playing well and knocking down shots, said Thompson, who scored 20 points on 10-for-11 shooting. "First and foremost, he better be hitting those shots when he gets back in the season because we're going to need those threes. If he doesn't, I'm going to be really angry because he used all that 3-point juice now and I'm not appreciating that."
Life was easy for many of the players with so many gifted point guards in the game. Whether it was Irving pushing the pace with nine assists or John Wall, attacking the rim with some energy and, dare I say, anger, with eight assists, there was room to run and big men to run with them.
Cousins had another big game in the Rising Stars Competition after scoring 33 in last year's game while playing with Wall. He teamed up with Wall for portions of the game once again and scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. He did a lot of his damage early, cleaning up the rare missed shot and running the floor hard to keep up with the guards.
For a big man like Cousins, that is his way to keep up in a game like this.
"I learned how to run with these guards," Cousins said. "That's what it is. It's an All-Star game, they want it to be highlights. You have to join the highlights some type of way. Keep running with them."
Yes, there were 34 turnovers combined in the game -- Ricky Rubio threw some to fans sitting in the front row. Yes, Team Shaq (the guard-filled team) took 41 3-pointers and hit only 12 from beyond the arc all game. These games tend to have their lulls.
But the highlights were good.
Paul George gave us a small preview of his dunk contest routine, sticking his hand through the rim one jam and throwing down a vicious reverse on another. There was Blake Griffin flying through the air for a few lobs. Ricky Rubio was lacing passes effortlessly to teammates in the most entertaining fashion possible.
It was everything a fan could want from a game like this. Nothing more nothing less.
Well, there was one thing there could have been more of. Landry Fields was the Knick to star in this one as Jeremy Line played only eight minutes and was one of three players who played that failed to score at least 10 points.
Fields joked: "You know, magic can only go so far."
Sorry, Lin-maniacs (and there were a lot of them in the Amway Center), the best Lin moment came when the Amway Center video board showed Lin's parents on the kiss cam, causing Lin to laugh embarrassingly and bury his head behind his shooting shirt and his teammate, Fields.
Ah, the memories of another rookie game.
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