NEW ORLEANS – There is usually a rite of passage for first-time all-stars, a sort of dues-paying that has to occur in order to earn playing time and the respect of your peers. In his all-star debut, John Wall had to accept a lesser, diminished role than what he’s accustomed to having in Washington, no matter how well he performed.
Eastern Conference Coach Frank Vogul let Wall know before the game how he planned to use his rotation, so that left the Wizards point guard with just 15 minutes to show to the rest of the world what he has to offer as a basketball player and entertainer in the NBA’s annual showcase. In that limited time, Wall had 12 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals to help the East snap a three-game all-star losing streak with a 163-155 victory over the Western Conference.
“We got the win, so I ain’t mad,” Wall said. “I think the amount of time I played, I just enjoyed myself, tried to make it a competitive game, play the way the coaches that put me in know I can play – and that’s pushing the pace and finding guys. That’s how we got the streak going of getting back in the game, so I really enjoyed it.”
The East trailed by 11 points when Wall entered the game with about three minutes left in the third quarter. Wall quickly led his team on 13-3 run by handing out two assists and making two baskets, including a breakaway, double-pump dunk to get the East within 126-125. Vogel eventually replaced Wall with Carmelo Anthony with seven minutes left in the game.
“Yeah, I was hungry for more,” Wall said. “When Melo came and got me, I wanted to keep playing, but when our second-leading scorer had 30, you can’t say nothing about that. I wasn’t really going to trip on, harp on it.”
Anthony made a record eight three-pointers but Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving claimed most valuable player honors after leading the team with 31 points and 14 assists. Wall and Irving, the first overall picks in 2010 and 2011, have always been highly competitive when going head-to-head but Irving has collected accolades and praise on a much higher level despite having a lower career winning percentage.
Elected as a starter despite having the fewest wins of any all-star, Irving was a dynamic force on Sunday, connecting 14 of 17 shots, with his only misses coming from long distance. In his second all-star game, after getting selected by the coaches last season, Irving hit shots from all over, got into the lane with ease and toyed with the West defenders by dropping jumpers as well.
“He put on a show and he has one of the best layup games I’ve ever seen as a guard or anybody around the rim,” Wall said. “So he definitely deserved” the MVP trophy.
Wall provided a few highlights of his own. He had a two-handed reverse dunk, a breakaway lefty flush and nifty crossover and layup around Portland’s Damian Lillard. “That’s the way I am. And that’s the way I play, is kind of a highlight player,” Wall said. “But I think I improved this season and learned how to play in a fundamental way and enjoy way and show the fundamentals in my game. That’s what I did, getting out the open court and getting a chance to dunk and find my teammates.”
Before the game, Wall got some uplifting news when he learned that his mother, Frances Pulley, was released from the hospital after health concerns forced her to miss the weekend festivities. “She’s doing all right. She’s on medicine and they still keeping an eye on her,” Wall said. “”She was able to go home.”
Wall also benefited from some pregame advice from LeBron James, who told him that the best way to get into the game was to attack the basket. With Tony Parker giving him a clear lane – “TP was in cruise control,” Wall said – Wall drove down the lane for a layup that allowed him to get on the scoreboard quickly and removed any nerves.
“I took my rhythm dribble like I usually do before I shoot a jump shot, but I was like, ‘No way, I’m going to the basket,’ ” he said. “LeBron and them told me, make sure your first shot is a layup, because he took one and it was an air ball.”
Wall took a jumper but missed badly, he said, because “my legs was shaking for some reason.”
His only regret was that he only got the share the floor for a few minutes with James and wasn’t able to connect with on him an alley-oop lob. “Everybody was running back into the paint, trying to stop me so I was just finding the shooters and it was cool,” said Wall, who admitted that he was totally impressed when James converted the most impressive dunk of the dunk in the first quarter. “I was hype. Caught it with the right [hand], windmilled it with the left. That’s big time right there.”
Wall finally got his time on the big stage and got a little emotional when he was introduced to fans at Smoothie King Center before the game. He waved his hands to the crowd and received a loud ovation despite being the only all-star on either side not to have his image projected on the jumbo HD screen above the floor.
“Amazing. This is the ultimate goal that you set for yourself,” Wall said. “It’s not surreal to me, because I think I established myself the first half of this season and end of the last year that I belong in this league and I can be a great player in this league. It’s just more motivation for me.”
And, after getting a taste of being an all-star, Wall doesn’t want to settle on this being his only career appearance. “I’m very hungry,” Wall said. ”It’s a great weekend, a great accomplishment for yourself. To have the celebrities and all these guys come out and have the best players in the NBA play on one court and play for the crowd. I’m eager to come out here the rest of my career.”