Outgoing NBA Commissioner David Stern, foreground center, introduces Houston Rockets players James Harden, right, and Dwight Howard, second from right, as well as Indiana Pacers David West, left, and Roy Hibbert prior to their NBA pre-season game dubbed NBA Global Games Thursday Oct. 10, at the Mall of Asia Arena at suburban Pasay city, south of Manila, Philippines. The Rockets won 116-96, in the first NBA game in this basketball-crazy Southeast Asian nation, part of the NBA's global schedule that will have eight teams play in six countries this month. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
You will have to forgive us Filipino basketball fans if we weren’t our usual rowdy, energetic and boisterous selves.
You will have to forgive the 12,885 fans for tweeting (now it’s a verb), Instagramming (that one’s now a verb as well), and posting whatever thoughts and images we could during the first ever NBA Global Game ever played in the Philippines that ended with a 116-96 blowout of the Indiana Pacers by the Houston Rockets.
That was it – the first. And you saw it all right. Even in the end, very few people had left their seats to beat any late night traffic. Every one at the Mall of Asia Arena hung on to every pass, every basket, every miscue, every dunk and every word by every player who set foot in the country. The fans cheered for all the legends and big names to grace a NBA hardcourt – Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Horry, Ron Harper, Clyde Drexler and Jalen Rose.
They cheered their lungs out for the stars on the different teams – Dwight Howard, James Harden, Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons, Danny Granger and Paul George.
Who said that exhibition games or “friendlies” – the term outgoing NBA Commissioner David Stern borrowed from football -- are meaningless?
They are played to prepare for the upcoming season.
Indiana coach Frank Vogel thinks that once Paul George and Danny Granger find a way to play together, “they’d make a heckuva tandem”.
Once Omer Asik comes back from injury (calf strain), Houston will suddenly have a lot of depth, quality, firepower, defense and flair with their new-look frontcourt of Dwight Howard, Omri Casspi and Donatas Motiejunas.
There was three-pass play where Jeremy Lin cut from the right side of the baseline to a cutting Ronnie Brewer who drew the defense before dropping the ball off in one pass to an open Casspi for an and-one that translated into a 95-82 lead with 6:30 left to play.
Houston stars James Harden and Chandler Parsons admitted that the presence of their bigs and Howard will free up the shooters and allow more slashing drives to the basket.
“That will open up the spaces for us,” corroborated Parsons, who scored 15-points but hit only one of three from three-point range.
The Rockets averaged 43.4 rebounds an outing last season with Asik, Patrick Patterson, Carlos Delfino and Motiejunas patrolling that shaded area. That allowed them to run the league ragged with 18.5 fastbreak points a game; second best in the NBA.
“They kept running,” Vogel singled out as one reason why Houston put away last season’s Eastern Conference Finalist with almost embarrassing ease. The Rockets scored 26 fastbreak points while ruling the boards 45-39.
I wondered if the Pacers had tired legs due to jet lag but Vogel refused to make that as an excuse. “We all had the same flight schedules,” he said. “It’s simple… the Rockets outplayed us.”
Having said that, Pacers center Roy Hibbert looked out of shape and more than a step slow.
“That’s why we play these games and that is to get better,” explained Indiana assistant coach Nate McMillan who I bumped into on his way out of the arena. “It gives us a better understanding of what areas we need to work on. There’s more to learn from this loss as opposed to coming out with a win. We’ll take this and learn.”
Hibbert, an incredible sleeper of a draft pick in this day and age, as he was selected 17th in the draft by Toronto before being shipped over for Jermaine O’Neal and the rights to Nathan Jawai (along with Raptors Rasho Nesterovic, TJ Ford, Maceo Baston), was outplayed by Dwight Howard, who battled foul trouble.
The day before the game, Hibbert and his Pacers teammates took part in a hour-long NBA Cares event at the arena. The entire team gamely took part in the event for special children.
“I’m getting a workout,” he blurted out to no one in particular in the media who stood close to the baseline. The former Georgetown Hoya sweated profusely but he looked to be having a good time. “But it’s good coz I need it.”
And the Pacers sorely needed Hibbert, power forward David West and small forward Danny Granger to get going. Unfortunately, they struggled for the entire match except for West, who eventually got it going offensively. Without the three playing their usual games, Indiana got pounded inside by 62 points in the lane by Houston.
Even if Manila took a pounding from a sudden downpour that had typhoon-like conditions to it, no one left. Everyone was riveted to the court and first ever NBA Global Game on Philippine soil.
“It was a good experience,” pronounced Rockets head coach Kevin McHale. “It was a fun night. It had a nice vice; a nice amount of energy in the arena.”
The cabbie who drove me to work this morning told me that he cut short his trip last night (that means not earning a few precious hundred bucks) to catch the game on television.
“It was a blowout,” he said in Filipino. “But that happens. It’s a pre-season game where teams experiment and work to get in shape and in sync (hindi pa nagkakamuyan). But this match was fun. We Filipinos are lucky because not every country gets to host a NBA game.”
Who said these pre-season games were meaningless?