NEW ORLEANS — When it was an All-Star Game, Bulls center Joakim Noah couldn’t have been more out of his element — he was lost in a maze of fast breaks, alley-oop dunks, three-point shots and virtually no defense.
But then it became a basketball game. And Noah became a factor. A bit-part player in the first half, he played a key supporting role to Kyrie Irving’s 31-point, 14-assist MVP performance that led the East to a 163-155 victory over the West in the NBA All-Star Game at the Smoothie King Center.
‘‘It ended up being competitive. The game got close,’’ Noah said. ‘‘That’s when the fun usually begins.’’
Noah finished with eight points on 4-for-5 shooting, five rebounds and five assists. But after the West cut an 18-point deficit to three after three quarters, Noah played the entire fourth quarter as the East closed with a 15-3 run to win it. Noah had six points, three rebounds and two assists in the fourth quarter.
‘‘That’s why he’s in there,’’ said Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who scored 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting but didn’t play in the fourth quarter. ‘‘He’s one of the best competitors I’ve ever played against.’’
Noah scored two points in an 8:46 stint in the second quarter. He was gratified to make a difference in the end — teaming with Irving, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George most of the way.
‘‘I was just happy to be in there down the stretch,’’ Noah said. ‘‘It’s hard to show what you can do in limited minutes. But, overall, I had a great time. And to be able to play like that in an All-Star Game in front of all your friends — I know my family’s watching — it’s a good feeling.’’
The West, behind Blake Griffin (38 points on 19-for-23 shooting) and Kevin Durant (38 points), led 123-105 with 4:39 left in the third quarter after Kevin Love (13 points) hit a three-point shot. But the West outscored the East 18-3 to close to 126-123 entering the fourth quarter.
Irving was magnificent with 15 points and four assists in the fourth. Noah scored on a flying dunk off a pass from James on a fast break to give the East a 142-140 lead. He dunked again off a pass from James on a pick-and-roll to cut the West’s lead to 145-144.
After Durant made a three-pointer to give the West a 155-153 lead with 1:59 left, George made three free throws. Noah forced a Durant miss, then kept a ball alive on the other end, leading to Anthony’s three-pointer off a pass from Irving that gave the East a 159-155 lead with 1:04 left.
‘‘It was great,’’ Noah said. ‘‘Those guys score in bunches. It’s crazy. A lot of talent on the floor. Sometimes you don’t realize it until you’re on the court with them.’’
East coach Frank Vogel had planned to replace Noah with his own center, Roy Hibbert, with four or five minutes left ‘‘if it was close.’’ But he stayed with the hot hand. That’s how Noah works.
‘‘In the locker room,’’ Wade said, ‘‘we talked about having fun and enjoying it, but [Noah] was serious. He wanted to win. You could see it in his face. That’s just the kind of player Chicago has in him. I’m glad he was on our side.’’