The stars shine just as brightly in Houston as they do in Hollywood. Maybe even more so without all that L.A. smog.
But one star shined brighter than the rest at the All-Star Weekend’s namesake event: Christopher Emmanuel Paul. He initiated his MVP performance with a pair of consecutive assists to regular running mate Blake Griffin. Almost 275 points later, Paul iced the game with a cold-blooded pull up three over Joakim Noah.
It’s not in Chris Paul’s DNA to slink into the background. Sure, he has an innate sense of when to defer to his teammates, but it was those very Western Conference teammates who benefited most from Paul’s ability to pick apart the defense. To go along with 20 points (including 9 in the final frame), Paul doled out 15 assists—the most dimes in an All-Star Game in 18 years.
In the classically simple explanations of his own success, Chris Paul showered credit on his teammates, paying particular attention to scoring savant Kevin Durant, crosstown rival Kobe Bryant, and fellow Clipper Blake Griffin.
“I like to throw the lob. I like to see guys hit threes,” Paul said. “When you’re out there on the court with all that firepower, why wouldn’t you want to make passes?”
It’s the assumptions that Chris Paul makes about his own game that make him so endearing. “Why wouldn’t you want to make passes?” Well, each time down the court there are either two or three reasons not to pass the ball. He asks the rhetorical question as if anybody could trot out onto the court with the 23 of the best players in the world and dish out 15 assists. Not so.
“He’s always looking to pass so this is his dream right here. Scorers everywhere,” said a reverent Griffin after his Lob Angeles teammate was awarded the game’s MVP trophy. “He makes the game fun.”
Griffin started the game 6 for 6. All dunks. All originating from fellow Angelenos. Three of the assists came from Paul and three came from Bryant (including a breathtaking hockey assist that started with Paul).
But midway through the second quarter, the Eastern defense made a conspicuous adjustment we’re all used to in Clipperland; interrupt Blake’s personal dunk contest.
At the end of the second quarter, the familiar fastbreak duo of Paul and Griffin had a 2-on-1 opportunity against a backpedaling Chris Bosh. With Paul as the ball handler and Griffin streaking to the rim, Bosh apparently thought that sealing off Blake and giving Paul an uncontested layup was the most prudent defensive strategy. He more than likely would grow to regret the decision to offend Paul in such a manner.
Team East coach Erik Spoelstra said he didn’t need to instruct his players to focus on Griffin around the rim. “With technology right now, I think all the players were aware that they did not want to be posterized and forever seen on a wall.”
Paul assisted on four of Griffin’s nine field goals (I’m playing fast and loose with the term field goal—none of his shots came from outside four feet). “It was cool,” Griffin explained. “I had my first two buckets from him. It’s definitely something I’m used to. It kind of put me at ease.”
While Paul will put his own teammates at ease, it’s quite the opposite for his adversaries. Just ask Chris Bosh. He’ll be having nightmares about this nutmeg for decades. But more than being the calming force for his teammates, he’s also the inspiration. After Paul embarrassed Bosh, Tony Parker pulled an almost identical stunt, after which Boshy bear released his frustration with an unabashed shove of the crafty Frenchman.
Though the outcome of the game and even his MVP performance will likely take a backseat to any regular season or playoff accomplishments, he still couldn’t help but wonkishly explain the East’s defensive dilemmas.
“This game is slightly different than a regular season game. Just a little bit different than a regular season game,” Chris said to audible chuckles from the media. “The weak side doesn’t come over and tag as much. You have to pick your poison. You tag Blake at the rim for the dunk, you’re leaving KD wide open for the three. One of them is going to go in.“
And how could Chris Paul be so sure of such things? “My son, my wife, we sit there… I’m on this thing called Synergy, day in and day out, watching basketball,” Paul continued. “I was talking to Pop, I could pretty much tell him the [Spurs’] entire offense.”
After Sunday night’s performance, Chris Paul shouldn’t be surprised if his fellow All-Stars spend some time on Synergy themselves scouting the Point God.