Monday, July 25, 2011

SMART-Gilas gives Kobe and co. a good workout

Compared to the PBA selection, the SMART-Gilas Pilipinas national team was expected to be more competitive against Kobe Bryant and his band of basketball superstars. That proved to be true, although the Philippine team still fell short against the SMART All-Stars, 98-89.

The nationals started off very gamely, with forward Japeth Aguilar finishing with a thunderous jam early in the 1st quarter. They would stick close for most of the period, before the NBA players closed off the first quarter with a 6-0 run to break the game wide open, 28-16.

The SMART All-Stars would lead by as much 21 points in the game, as they were able to get into transition often in the 3rd quarter. However, their chase for the highlight plays that the fans asked for proved to be the cause for a small collapse, allowing SMART-Gilas to get as close as eight points, 92-84, with 2:30 to go in the game.

Despite SMART-Gilas coach Rajko Toroman’s assertions that they wanted to win, he waved the proverbial white flag soon after that as he pulled Marcus Douthit from the game in favor of rarely-used Jason Ballesteros in the closing minutes. The naturalized center had energized the team in the fourth quarter with several big plays, including a huge putback dunk off of a missed Marcio Lassiter three-pointer.

The game was considerably chippier than the SMART All-Stars matchup with the PBA selection on Saturday night, with SMART-Gilas committing several hard fouls on their American guests.

NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant, in particular, was introduced to the hard hits of veteran Asi Taulava and looked visibly frustrated for the first time in the two games. Dondon Hontiveros also played Bryant physically in the fourth quarter, although the SMART All-Stars playing coach seemed to take it in stride, flashing a good-natured smile afterwards.

But the game was not without its lighter moments, as the NBA stars obviously wanted to please the crowd. Egged on by the enthusiastic crowd after the ball was stuck between the backboard and the shot clock, JaVale McGee attempted to tip it off himself instead of waiting for the arena staff to poke it off with a stick.

As awestruck as the Filipino fans were of their NBA idols, they went completely bonkers when pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao made his entrance early in the fourth quarter. He would visit the NBA stars during a timeout and spent time conversing with Bryant and the rest of the team before play resumed.

When asked how many rounds he could go with Pacquiao, Paul answered, “15 seconds?”

The crowd was only too happy to respond, raining down cheers of “C-P-3! C-P-3!” for the New Orleans guard. Chicago Bulls superstar Derrick Rose received similar treatment as the crowd chanted “M-V-P! M-V-P!” as he took a pair of free throws in the fourth quarter, but he disappointed his fans by missing both shots. But the loudest cheers — at least for basketball players — were reserved for Bryant himself, as the crowd pleaded for him to put himself back into the game.

The oddest chant, though, occurred with four minutes to go in the game and the All-Stars leading 90-80. Perhaps praying for a miracle upset, the crowd erupted into familiar chants of “defense” as they cheered the effort of the hard-charging home team.

There were also a lot of dunks, on both sides. Douthit, Aguilar and Kelly Williams all showed off their athleticism for SMART-Gilas as did Tyreke Evans, James Harden and the rest of the SMART-All-Stars.

McGee, who scored 25 points against the undersized PBA selection the night before, was held to just 16, including just three in the first half as he was defended by the 6-11 Douthit. Bryant and Durant combined to score 21 points in the first half, when they pulled away from their local counterparts.

Jayvee Casio scored 16 points for SMART-Gilas, Douthit scored 14 points and Chris Lutz added 12. Hontiveros hit three shots from beyond the arc and finished with 11 of his own. He would later have the privilege of receiving Bryant’s jersey as he made an exchange with the NBA superstar.

Source: Mikkel Bolante, InterAKTV

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