HOUSTON (AP) – Chris Paul knew exactly what to do with the unlimited talent around him in Sunday’s NBA All-Star game: find the open man and enjoy the show.
Paul became the first Los Angeles Clippers player to be game’s MVP, scoring 20 points and handing out 15 assists in the West’s 143-138 win over the East.
He made 7-of-10 shots, including four 3-pointers, and became the third player to have at least 20 points and 15 assists in the league’s annual showcase, joining a couple Hall of Fame point guards, Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas.
“In games like this, it’s so up-tempo and fast-paced,” Paul said. “A guy like me, that’s a facilitator, I enjoy (it).”
Paul already had the best per-game assists average in All-Star history, 12.4 in four appearances. He had nine assists and plenty of fancy dribbling in the first half and one of his niftiest moves came right before one of his only mistakes.
When 6-foot-11 Chris Bosh came out to the wing to guard him, Paul slid the ball between Bosh’s legs and darted past him. He then threw an errant pass into the lane and Dwyane Wade intercepted, one of Paul’s three turnovers in the game.
Paul didn’t have a miscue in the second half, and had nine points in the final quarter to help the West win for the fourth time in five seasons.
He tried to hook up with the high-flying Griffin for one of their trademark alley-oops early in the third quarter. They mis-timed it, though, and Griffin had to come down before going up for a more conventional dunk.
But with so many stars to choose from, Paul could spread it around. He flicked a pass to Dwight Howard for a jam and found Tim Duncan cutting down the lane for another one in the third quarter. Paul also pitched a few assists to Kevin Durant, who finished with 30 points.
“This game is slightly different than a regular-season game,” Paul said. “You have to pick your poison. You tag Blake at the rim for a dunk, you’re leaving KD wide open for the 3.”
Maybe just wanting to try something different midway through the third quarter, Paul backed up to the corner and swished a 3-pointer for an 88-86 lead for the West.
“Most of the time, I was open,” Paul said. “I was wide-open for the first two 3s that I hit. The other ones, the shot clock was running down, so I almost was forced to shoot a couple of times.”
Paul, leading the league this season with 2.59 steals per game, had four in the All-Star game.
“He had great passes, (was) making steals, made big buckets,” Durant said. “He played a hell of a game. It was a pleasure playing with him.”
Paul is averaging 9.6 assists — second to Boston’s Rajon Rondo — in his second season with the Clippers. More significantly, he’s led the Clippers to a 39-17 record and he, Blake Griffin and “Lob City” have helped their franchise steal some of the L.A. spotlight from the floundering Lakers, who currently sit 10th in the Western Conference.
In an All-Star format, where the defense is lazier than the regular season, a player like Paul excels. He had 12 assists in last year’s game and 14 in each of his first two, when he played for New Orleans.
“You just want to play fast,” Paul said. “I like to throw the lob. I like to see guys hit 3s. When you’re out on the court with all that firepower, why wouldn’t you want to make passes? You’ve got KD (Durant) filling one of the lanes, you’ve got Blake, Kobe (Bryant) on the wing. There’s nothing like it.”
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