John Wall was in an unfamiliar position at the start of the Rising Stars Challenge on Saturday in Orlando. He was on the bench, backing up Kyrie Irving, the man who would go on to dominate the night, and the game, that Wall owned last season in Los Angeles.
Wall was upset that Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal picked 11 players before taking him, unable to understand how he went from being the No. 1 pick overall pick in 2010 to the forgotten man in just 18 months. He planned to use the snub as motivation, not only for the game, but also his career. And in nearly 27 minutes, Wall had 17 points, eight assists, six rebounds and two blocked shots as his Team Chuck defeated Team Shaq, 146-133.
“It was cool, you know,” Wall told reporters in Orlando after the game. “At first, you want to be out there starting, so I was kind of upset, but after a while, you just play and just know it’s for fun and I started taking that and I felt a lot better.”
Wall also showed that the NBA might have made a mistake by not inviting him to the slam dunk contest. He caught an alley-oop pass from New Jersey’s Marshon Brooks and rammed the ball through the rim and into his face and pulled off another dunk that might be better than anything pulled off in Saturday’s competition.
Duplicating a ridiculous dunk that he debuted in Chris Paul’s charity game in Winston-Salem last October, Wall whirled the ball behind-the-back along his waist, switched from left hand to right hand and threw it down.
“I just wanted to try it again, and luckily I made it,” Wall said. “It was only my third time ever doing it, so I was shocked.”
Wall planned on giving the fans another special dunk, by going between-the-legs off the bounce. He even waived off everybody and asked his friend and former Kentucky teammate DeMarcus Cousins of Sacramento to clear the lane. But Monroe wasn’t on board.
The crowd and even TNT analyst Kenny Smith booed. Wall grinned.
“I was going to try the between-the-legs. I’ve never tried that before. He stole the ball. He messed my up my rhythm,” Wall said. “It’s just fun. I don’t get mad at him for it. He did it so I’m going to try to dunk on him when we play them.”
The Wizards play the Pistons again on March 26, by the way. Monroe explained his move afterward, telling CBSSports.com, “It was just a joke. He got another shot at it. The game was over so it wasn’t a big deal ... I thought about it right when I did it. It was real quick. I was thinking about letting him go but then...”
Then Monroe shrugged.
Irving, the No. 1 pick of last June’s draft, shrugged during the game, because of his unbelievable shooting shooting display. Cleveland’s rookie of the year favorite was named MVP of the game after connecting on 12 of 13 shots, including all eight of his three-point attempts, and finishing with a game-high 34 points.
“It’s never occurred in my career,” Irving said of his eight three-pointers. “You know, it’s kind of unfortunate that it comes in the All-Star Game. These stats don’t carry over to the season. But at the end of the day, it was still fun to get out there with those talented guys, so it was a great experience.”
Irving also had a team-high nine assists. “Kyrie’s great, man,” Wall said. “He shot the ball well. He made every three he shot. Basically, he deserved to be MVP, making shots like that and he got everyone else involved.”
Wall won MVP of the game last season when he set a record with 22 assists, but now he has to move on from the Friday night festivities. The only way he’ll be invited back to all-star weekend is if he can earn an invitation to the Saturday competitions or the Sunday game. Wall said he is focused on the latter.
“Yeah, that means I have to put in a lot of work the rest of the year and the rest of the summer. I have to prepare myself I have to get ready for that game. You know, you want to be here, as much as possible, every weekend. You don’t want to come here just to be a spectator and watch.”