NEW ORLEANS - Celtics guard Ray Allen went from an NBA All-Star replacement to competing with LeBron James for the MVP award last night.
Allen scored 14 of his game- and All-Star career-high 28 points in the fourth quarter during the Eastern Conference's 134-128 victory over the Western Conference last night at the sold-out New Orleans Arena. The eight-time All-Star, who replaced injured forward and fellow ex-UConn star Caron Butler, made 10 of 14 field goal attempts and nailed 5 of 9 3-point attempts in 28 minutes. Despite Allen's heroics, MVP honors went to Cleveland's LeBron James, who had 27 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds for the East.
"I didn't think about it," said Allen about being up for the MVP award. "I didn't even know how many points I had until I did the interview afterwards. Those points add up, most definitely."
Celtics forward Paul Pierce, who wasn't available for comment, had 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists in 12 minutes. Boston's Kevin Garnett did not play because of an abdominal strain; the Celtics had three All-Stars for the first time since Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and Kevin McHale in 1988.
The Celtics' Doc Rivers, who coached the East, had no problems with James receiving MVP honors.
"It would have been nice for Ray, too, no doubt about it," Rivers said. "But was great for Ray in this, he was not an original pick and he should have been."
"I'm happy to be here in New Orleans, enjoying the city, despite the stuff that's happened with this beautiful city," Garnett said. "I'm disappointed that I'm not playing, period."
There were concerns whether New Orleans could be a solid host post Hurricane Katrina. Rivers and Allen, however, thought "The Big Easy" did a wonderful job. "New Orleans should be extremely proud of the way this thing was run this week," Rivers said.
Said Allen: "New Orleans, they put on a great show. And then the game . . . the game was definitely one of the more fun games I've participated in. So overall, I would have to say it's probably been my best All-Star Game so far."
With Rivers and West coach Byron Scott of the Hornets, the game had two African-American coaches for just the second time since the mid-season classic started 54 years ago. The only other time it happened was in 1975 with Washington's K.C. Jones of the East and Golden State's Al Attles of the West.
"It's fantastic, to be honest with you, especially with what Doc went through last year in Boston, to get that team back up there," Scott said. "Obviously, the first year I was here we won 18 games and now we're 36-15. To me it shines the light on just two very good basketball coaches.
"It's not much about our race, it's more about what we've done in our professions. So I think that should be more what it's all about than the color of our skin."
There was much ado made about whether the Lakers' Kobe Bryant should play for the West because of a right pinkie injury. Bryant had to play, however, because he played in LA's last regular-season game before All-Star weekend. Bryant ended up starting and came out the game for Phoenix's Steve Nash with 9:13 left in the first quarter after touching the ball only twice without taking a shot. Scott said he was given orders by the NBA to play Bryant as little as possible.
"Our interest in Kobe is making sure when the game is over that he's relatively healthy," Scott said.
The East owned a 74-65 lead at halftime, getting 12 points each from Orlando's Dwight Howard and James. Pierce had 6 points at halftime, Allen 5.
Allen and Pierce combined for 13 points in the third quarter to push the East's lead to 106-93. Before the fourth quarter, Garnett and former NBA legend Karl Malone thanked New Orleans.
"God bless each and every one of you," Garnett said.
The West took the lead, 112-110, at the 6:52 mark of the fourth on a Dirk Nowitzki lay-in. Allen's 3-pointer with 3:14 left gave the East a 119-118 lead, and another trey by Allen tied the game at 122 with 2:26 remaining. Yet another long-distance make by Allen gave the East a 125-122 lead with 1:58 remaining.
"I knew I was going to get some good shots off," Allen said. "It was just a matter of whether or not I made them. But I was feeling good out there."
Said James: "Ray hit some big shots."
James gave the East a 127-125 lead with a strong dunk though the lane with 55.5 seconds left. Allen got the East the ball back by taking a charge on local standout Chris Paul with 46.1 seconds left. Allen, who nailed 4 of 5 shots and those three treys in the fourth, sealed the win for the East with a layin with 15.4 seconds left.
"Ray made shots, LeBron made plays, and we won the game," Rivers said.