NEW ORLEANS — The show didn’t end for John Wall when he grabbed the ball from Washington Wizards mascot G-Wiz and threw down a double-pump reverse jam to claim the first slam dunk title in franchise history. His celebratory dance with Indiana Pacers forward Paul George late Saturday was merely the appetizer for the event for which he has waited four years to be a participant.
Though he felt he should’ve been starting, Wall made the most of his limited time off the bench, producing several highlight plays while scoring 12 points in 15 minutes as the Eastern Conference defeated the Western Conference, 163-155, in the 63rd annual All-Star Game at Smoothie King Center.
Though he was a spectator for the final stretch of the fourth quarter, Wall played a key role in helping the East rally from an 18-point second-half deficit and also finished with the most points scored in an all-star game by a Wizards player since Michael Jordan had 20 in his 14th and final appearance in 2003.
“That’s great. Greatest player of all time. I’m happy then. That’s a great accomplishment for me,” Wall said. “I just enjoyed myself. I’m happy to be a first-time all-star, and I’m glad we got the win.”
Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving occupied most of the minutes at point guard, and it was hard to dispute the decision of Indiana Pacers Coach Frank Vogel as Irving was named MVP after scoring a team-high 31 points and handing out a game-high 14 assists. Irving — a third-year point guard who was voted in as the starter — delivered with a lethal combination of long distance range and ridiculous handle on the basketball.
Matched up with Houston center Dwight Howard early in the fourth period, Irving got some separation with a crossover dribble, then threw up a high-arcing shot that was just outside of Howard’s reach and dropped. Irving hit fadeaway jumpers, penetrated into the lane for layups and knocked down his third three-pointer to give the East its first lead of the second half at 153-152.
“It was definitely special,” Irving said after connecting on 14 of 17 shots. “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.”
District native Kevin Durant answered with a three-pointer only to have Rockets guard James Harden foul George on a three-pointer. George made all of the free throws, and Irving later found Carmelo Anthony (30 points) for his all-star game record eighth three-pointer to put the East up by four points. When Irving fed LeBron James for a driving layup, the game was all but secured.
Durant, the front-runner for the league’s MVP award for most of the season with his 30-point outbursts, was out to separate himself from the best of the best. He took 17 three-pointers but made only six and matched Blake Griffin with a game-high 38 points. Durant now has the highest scoring average in all-star game history at 30.6 in five appearances.
This weekend was difficult for Wall as his mother, Frances Pulley, was unable to attend after being hospitalized with fluid buildup in her lungs. But the 23-year-old has tried his best to have some fun during a stressful time and received some uplifting news before the game when he learned his mother had improved enough to be released and return home.
Vogel let Wall know in advance how he would be utilized and made him wait the entire first quarter. At the end of the period, Magic Johnson grabbed the microphone and led the crowd in a rendition of “Happy Birthday” for NBA legend Bill Russell, who turned 80 last week. Johnson then coerced all of the all-stars to pay their respects to Russell and shake his hand.
Wall went from greeting Russell directly to hitting the floor, and it didn’t take long for him to get on the scoreboard. With San Antonio guard Tony Parker playing more apathetic defense than usual in this exhibition, Wall easily glided down the lane for a layup that he hopes will be the first of many more in all-star competition.
“I want to make it an every year thing,” Wall said, “and the only thing I can do is keep trying to improve my game as a player, and when you’re winning games, you put yourself in that category.”
Wall was feeling so good after his basket went in that he decided to take a three-pointer that missed badly. After missing another point-blank layup, Wall decided the best way to finish was to dunk. He took a pass from Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Johnson and converted a two-handed reverse. Later Wall threw down a lob dunk.
Griffin scored 18 points in the first quarter, throwing down seven dunks. His Los Angeles Clippers teammate Chris Paul, whose career began in New Orleans, whirled the ball around his waist and dropped off a pass to Griffin. Griffin uncorked a vicious windmill slam.
But while Griffin led in volume, James led in bombast with his first-quarter dunks. He started the game with back-to-back dunks and brought all of his teammates on the Eastern Conference bench out of their seats when he caught a lob from Anthony, switched hands from right to left in midair and threw down a dunk. James’s missed dunk even generated a buzz as he attempted to finish another alley-oop but bumped his elbow at the bottom of the basket and lost control of the ball.
When Wall returned late in the third quarter, the East trailed by 11 points, but the deficit was just 126-123 entering the final period when he had a crossover dribble to get around Portland’s Damian Lillard, then drove lane the lane for a two-handed scoop shot. Wall added a two-handed, double-pump slam and two more free throws before his night was over.
“It was fun. It was exciting. I think we did a great job of making it a competitive game and coming back and winning,” Wall said. “We started playing defense in the third and fourth quarter. That’s how we got back into it. First half, it was Blake this, Blake that, dunks, dunks, dunks. . . . The main thing was to go out and get a win, so I’m cool with it.”