NEW ORLEANS — What we saw Sunday at Smoothie King Center was a transformation to a new NBA generation.
Kyrie Irving, all of 21 years old, was the most talented player on the court in earning MVP honors as the Eastern Conference rallied to beat the Western Conference, 163-155, with a 40-point fourth quarter.
Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony added 30 points with an All-Star record eight 3-pointers as they won despite the East trailing by as many as 18 points in the third quarter.
As usual, the game was a high-level pickup game until about the eight-minute mark of the fourth quarter when Wizards guard John Wall sparked the comeback with his defense. Irving, of the Cavaliers, finished with 31 points, 14 assists, and 5 rebounds. He converted 14 of 17 shots and scored 15 points in the final period.
“It was definitely special,” said Irving, whose father Drederick played at Boston University. “Just being out there with all these great athletes and playing in front of a great crowd in New Orleans and then the game got competitive. And the East wanted this one, we took this one personal a little bit.”
Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin each scored 38 points for the West, who missed a whopping 40 3-point attempts. Besides Durant and Griffin, the Western Conference was 32-for-77 shooting for 79 points.
LeBron James added 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists while Paul George added 18 points.
For the first time in seven years there was no Celtic in the NBA’s spring classic. Players such as Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, and Tony Parker are considered graybeards, while youngsters such as George, Irving, Damian Lillard, and DeMar DeRozan are becoming more familiar names and established stars.
Eastern coach Frank Vogel of the Pacers acknowledged the game is getting younger.
“Those [veteran] guys have been here; they’re unselfish guys and they want to be here for the fans and make sure they’re putting on a good show,’’ Vogel said, “But certainly it’s part of the history of the league, right? Some of the older guys letting the younger guys grow and have some of these moments.”
The days of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce cheering vigorously from the sideline at the Slam Dunk Contest or 3-point shootout are over. Those guys are resting at home, attempting to resurrect the Nets’ season.
Rajon Rondo may have been an All-Star candidate had he not been recovering from a torn right anterior cruciate ligament. But despite Rondo still being considered a younger player, there are 12 All-Stars younger than the 27-year-old Celtics point guard.
The theme of All-Star Weekend was the overhaul in the rosters. There were six first-time All-Stars, including second-year players Lillard and Anthony Davis.
“It was funny sitting in the All-Star meetings because I looked around and there’s Dirk [Nowitzki], and Tony [Parker] and me,” said, Paul, 28. “So I’m like actually one of the older guys in the All-Star room and Damian Lillard was standing in front of me and I’m looking at him, wondering what he’s thinking.
“It really seems like it goes quick now. I remember being used to seeing the guys and like, ‘Man I’m in the same room with Tim Duncan.’ And now I’m one of the older guys. It was weird.”
The NBA uses All-Star Weekend to honor its legends and there is no one who fits that bill more than former Celtics great Bill Russell, who turned 80 Wednesday. The league acknowledged the 11-time champion with a touching tribute following the first quarter.
After Magic Johnson, Karl Malone, Clyde Drexler, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Julius Erving were introduced at midcourt, Johnson then took the microphone and asked fans to sing “Happy Birthday” to Russell, who was sitting courtside. After the crowd followed with a standing ovation and singing, Johnson called for the Western Conference All-Stars led by Kobe Bryant, and Eastern Conference All-Stars, led by James, to walk over and shake Russell’s hand.
Russell rose his hand in acknowledgment, shook the hands of every All-Star and then returned to his seat as the second quarter began.
The scene was reminiscent to the 1999 MLB All-Star Game at Fenway Park when the All-Stars greeted Ted Williams in the infield.
The All-Stars then provided an offensive bonanza in the first 24 minutes, combining for 165 points (the most in All-Star history), 74 field goals, and 13 3-pointers. While many NBA fans lamented the new Slam Dunk Contest format and the absence of premium dunkers, James and Griffin spent the first half engaged in a dunking duel of their own.
Griffin and Durant combined for 42 first-half points as the West led, 89-76. Anthony and James teamed for 32 points for the East.
Hometown player Davis, playing in his first All-Star Game as a late addition to replace Bryant, received a raucous ovation when entering and scored 8 first-half points on 4-for-4 shooting. He finished with 10.Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @GwashburnGlobe.