The SMART All-Stars led by Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul romped to a 131-105 win over a selection of Philippine basketball players on Saturday night at the SMART-Araneta Coliseum. But despite the lopsided scores, everyone in the venue – including the NBA superstars’ victims – went home happy after the game highlighted by thunderous dunks and above-the-rim action.
Washington center JaVale McGee stole the show from his more heralded teammates, scoring 25 points and leading the stunning display of aerial artistry. Durant added 22 points off vicious dunks and trademark fade-away long bombs.
But the biggest cheers in the arena were reserved for Bryant, the SMART-All Stars’ playing coach. The Lakers’ superstar, who did not play in the fourth quarter when the game had already been decided, was serenaded by chants by the Filipino crowd egging him to put himself back in the game.
Bryant ended with only 12 points, which might as well have been the loudest 12 points in the history of the game. The 32-year-old guard turned back time, throwing down three sensational alley-oop slams as if he were still a hotshot 18-year-old rookie, including a reverse dunk off a Chris Paul pass off the backboard in the second quarter.
It was one of many highlights of the night for Filipino fans, who packed the coliseum to the rafters and went bonkers after every dunk from their NBA idols, which also included James Harden, Tyreke Evans, Derrick Williams, and Derek Fisher.
Despite playing the part of the Washington Generals for this exhibition match, the PBA selection started off gamely, with Arwind Santos scoring the first basket – and the first slam dunk – of the game.
The PBA stars even took several early leads in the opening period, as Santos led the charge with ten points. But Durant quickly caught fire, scoring nine points to put the SMART All-Stars ahead, 30-26, at the end of the first quarter.
The Oklahoma City forward continued his onslaught in the second quarter, adding eleven points to his total, while his Thunder teammate Harden and McGee caught fire. The NBAers ended the half with a 66-50 lead.
After a halftime break featuring a three-point shootout where Paul and Harden beat LA Tenorio and Larry Fonacier, all hell broke loose in the third quarter, as the SMART All-Stars put away the game for good.
Bryant scored on two alley-oops coming off passes from Paul and Durant, before feeding Rose for a two-handed alley-oop jam of his own, which prompted the capacity crowd to chant “M-V-P, M-V-P” for the Most Valuable Player of the 2010-2011 NBA season.
Harden added some footage to his highlight reel too, going coast to coast for a rock-the-cradle reverse jam.
Human pogo stick McGee, meanwhile, made himself an easy target of alley-oop passes from his teammates, before bringing the house down with a couple of coast-to-coast jams, showcasing breathtaking athleticism that had perhaps never been seen before by a Filipino audience.
The SMART All-Stars led107-78 heading into the payoff period, and the dunkfest continued in the fourth quarter, with Harden, Evans, and McGee continuing to strut their stuff while Bryant chilled on the bench.
Despite the beatdown, the PBA players, which included James Yap, Mark Caguioa, Sonny Thoss, Jason Castro, Arwind Santos, Alex Cabagnot, Larry Fonacier, Ryan Reyes, Danny Seigle, Rabeh Al-Hussaini, Marc Pingris, Gary David, Sol Mercado, LA Tenorio, Gabe Norwood, and JC Intal, were visibly happy sharing the court with their idols.
Bryant himself was impressed by the performance of the locals, who were led by Santos with 25 points.
“I love the passion they play with,” he said. “They play with a lot of energy.”
Bryant and company will take the court once more on Sunday against the SMART-Gilas Pilipinas national team at 1 p.m., also at the SMART-Araneta Coliseum.
SMART-Gilas team captain Chris Tiu watched the match intently from the sidelines. He acknowledged that it’s going to be a tough battle for his team.
“Sana gumimik sila,” he quipped, “para bukas antok pa ‘pag kalaban kami.”
While the NBA stars impressed the crowd with their basketball skill, the stateside contingent was impressed by the love showered upon them by the Filipino crowd.
“We’re a long way from home, but you guys made us feel welcome,” said Paul, the New Orleans Hornets superstar point guard.
» END OF KOBE? | Sun setting on Bryant as struggles continue
» Lakers’ best player this season? It’s Jordan Clarkson, not Kobe Bryant – NBA writer
» NBA ROUNDUP | Harden drops 26 in fourth quarter as Rockets win 1st game since firing coach