The show put on by Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving on Sunday, when they combined for 86 points in the Golden State Warriors’ 109-105 win over the Boston Celtics, brought back memories of some of the greatest guard duels in NBA history.
Isaiah Thomas v John Wall, 2017
Thomas etched his name in Boston Celtics lore when he scored 53 points to beat the Washington Wizards 129-119 in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last year, hot on the heels of losing his sister to a fatal car crash and one of his front teeth.
His performance was made more impressive by the fact he had to out-duel Wall, who had 40 points himself in a thrilling overtime result.
Chris Paul v Steve Nash, 2008
It took two overtime periods for Paul’s New Orleans Hornets to beat Nash’s Phoenix Suns 132-130, with the former filling up the stat line with 42 points, nine assists and eight steals, while the latter had 32 points and 12 helpers.
Kobe Bryant v Gilbert Arenas, 2006
NBA fans were treated to an unforgettable showing by two stars near the height of their powers on December 17, 2006, when the Washington Wizards clashed with the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Staples Centre was accustomed to seeing Bryant top everyone, but on this night they witnessed Gilbert Arenas torch the Lakers for 60 points to edge Bryant’s 45, with Agent Zero dominating overtime for the 147-141 win.
Allen Iverson v Vince Carter, 2001
There were some incredible single-game duels between the two explosive scorers in the 2000-01 season, but their greatest back-and-forth came across multiple contests in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Iverson delivered 54 points in Game 2, followed by Carter answering with 50 in Game 3 and Iverson again going over the half-century mark with 52 in Game 5. Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers also got the last laugh by beating Carter and the Toronto Raptors in Game 7.
Bernard King v Isiah Thomas, 1984
In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference first round series between the Detroit Pistons and the New York Knicks, King dropped 44 points while Thomas responded with 31 and 12 assists.
For Thomas, 16 of those points came in the final 90 seconds as he helped bring the Pistons back from a deficit to send the game to overtime. However, King took control in the extra period to lead the Knicks to a 127-123 win.
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Here are takeaways from how the draft played out:
LeBron and Kyrie reunited
The juiciest tidbit to come out of the draft was that LeBron selected former team-mate Kyrie Irving. If he really wanted to avoid him, James could have easily forced Curry to take Irving with the last pick.
But LeBron being LeBron, was likely two steps ahead of everyone and knew it’s better to keep your friends close and your enemies closer, because Kyrie was definitely going to try to cross him up anytime they were matched up.
More Durant and Westbrook
We already saw that dynamic play out in last year’s All-Star Game when it looked like Durant and Westbrook sort of made up. It’s more fun to see them go against each other because as we’ve seen when Oklahoma City and Golden State have met, there’s still some bad blood there.
Maybe we’ll get some team-mate passive aggressiveness, but the drama just won’t be as high as it could be otherwise.
Size versus shooting
LeBron may have ended up with the better team – he had the first pick and already had himself, the best player in the world – but Curry’s team can even the playing field with its shooting.
It’s no surprise the greatest shooter ever selected other stars who can snipe from long range. Hopefully, Curry’s team will either go for dunks or just hoist 3-pointers and it’s likely someone will catch fire.
New format has raised interest
Consider this: we’ve not even reached All-Star weekend and yet the draft has been at the forefront of the conversation, despite the Super Bowl being just a little more than a week away.
Of course, if the draft had been televised, we would have even more to talk about, but nonetheless the new format has already been a resounding success as the All-Star Game finally feels fresh. Hopefully the game itself lives up to the interest it’s generated, but even if it doesn’t, the build-up has been more than worth it.
With the Eastern Conference looking as wide open as it has in years, the Washington Wizards haven’t exactly shown they’re ready to seize the throne.
Teams in the East appear to finally have a realistic opportunity at knocking off LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs as the reigning conference champions continue to deal with turmoil.
Yet while Boston and Toronto have seemingly appeared to pass Cleveland by, at least in terms of regular season success, Washington have been stuck in mediocrity.
After winning 49 games and coming one victory shy of reaching the conference finals last year, the Wizards were considered to be trending upward as legitimate threats to the Cavaliers, in a similar vein as the Celtics and Raptors.
But through 47 games this season, Washington haven’t been able to keep up with Boston and Toronto and have instead been floating in the middle of the conference with a 26-21 record, near teams like Miami, Indiana and Milwaukee.
The Wizards have dropped five of their last eight and their most recent defeat, a 98-75 thumping at the hands of a Dallas Mavericks team sitting in the basement of the Western Conference, saw them score their second-fewest points this season.
The loss also saw trash talk between Washington’s John Wall and Dallas’ J.J. Barea, with the former saying of the Mavericks’ 6-foot-0 guard: “Just a little midget trying to get mad. I don’t pay him no mind.”
Barea, when told of the comment, fired back by saying: “I don’t like him at all now. But I don’t think his teammates like him, either. So it’s nothing new for him.”
The jab by Barea came a day after the Washington Post put out a story about a Wizards players-only meeting that had the opposite of the desired effect, potentially creating more friction within the team.
“A couple guys took it the negative way, and it hurt our team,” Wall told the Washington Post. “Instead of taking it in a positive way like we did in the past and using it to build our team up, it kind of set us back a little bit.”
Wall has previously acknowledged chemistry issues with backcourt partner Bradley Beal, but whether or not the point guard is liked by his teammates, his declining play this season has been a cause for concern.
Following four straight All-Star appearances, the 27-year-old hasn’t looked like one of the very best players in the East, with his numbers down across the board from his career-high year in 2016-17. His scoring has dropped from 23.1 points to 19.3, while his assists have fallen from 10.7 to 9.2 and his rebounds from 4.2 to 3.6.
More troubling, Wall is shooting just 41.7 per cent after making 45.1 of his shots last season. Wall’s shot has always been a question mark throughout his career, yet even while he’s shooting 3-pointers at a respectable 34.8 per cent clip, his inefficiency from the field is hard to ignore.
Regression has likely resulted in Wall losing ground, from a reputation standpoint, to other top point guards like Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry and Damian Lillard, while his own teammate – Beal – has potentially surpassed him as the Wizards’ best player.
It’s also a scary thought for Washington that Basketball Reference calculates them as having the easiest strength of schedule in the entire league so far.
They have time to turn it around and a chance to redeem themselves in the playoffs, but the Wizards have yet to show they can be anything more than they are.