West Beats East, 135-120

Monday, February 11th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Too bad Kobe Bryant can't adopt Los Angeles as his hometown. Given the way he was treated by the fans in Philadelphia, he has every reason to renounce all ties to the city where he grew up.

In a venomous display that was harsh even by local standards, Bryant was booed mercilessly Sunday at the NBA All-Star game as he scored 31 points and was named MVP of the game in leading the West to a 135-120 victory over the East.

``I'll use it as motivation, definitely,'' Bryant said. ``I'm the type of person that if something occurs in my life that's hurtful, I'm not going to let it hurt me for long. I'm going to turn it around and use it as some kind of motivation.''

Bryant used the words ``hurtful'' and ``upset'' to describe his feelings. The booing began when he was introduced, continued after he made a series of game-turning plays and reached a crescendo when he was handed the MVP trophy.

Bryant was booed relentlessly during the NBA Finals last year when the Lakers were finishing off the 76ers, and he recalled being booed during his rookie season when he was fresh out of high school and returning home for the first time.

``I guess that's how Philly is,'' West teammate Steve Francis said. ``That's unfortunate, but he lit them up again.''

Bryant's 31 points were the most in an All-Star game since Michael Jordan had 40 in 1988.

Bryant also became the first player to reach 30 points since Jordan did it in 1993, and he relegated Jordan, hometown hero Allen Iverson and every other All-Star into an afterthought by thoroughly dominating the game nearly every moment he was on the floor.

He also had five rebounds and five assists, shooting 12-for-25 from the field.

``What an incredible performance he put on. He was a step ahead of the best in the league, and that's hard to do because there's some great players out there,'' West coach Don Nelson said.

As Bryant walked away from the interview podium and Nelson sat down, the grizzled old coach tried to offer him a few reassuring words.

``Don't take it personal. They wish they had you,'' Nelson said.

A lot of teams wish they had Bryant, and he showed everyone why he has moved to the forefront of NBA superstardom.

Bryant got off to the best start of anybody, scoring eight points in the first six minutes and getting an assist by going around Jason Kidd with a deft crossover move and then feeding Tim Duncan for a dunk. Bryant also showcased some impressive ballhandling, dribbling through his legs as he came upcourt practically squatting.

Tracy McGrady scored 11 points in the second quarter to keep the East in it, but Bryant had a three-point play immediately after checking back in, then made four more baskets in the final 1:47 of the quarter _ including a layup just before the halftime buzzer _ as the West closed the half with a 24-7 run for a 72-55 lead.

The East chipped away during the third quarter, but Bryant wouldn't let them get too close. He scored one basket on a putback after the ball bounced over the top of the backboard, then had another bucket off an offensive rebound with 4:20 left to restore a 20-point lead, 88-68.

The boos for Bryant were fairly loud after both of those buckets. As the quarter progressed, Bryant was booed every time he touched the ball as it became clear that the West was headed for a lopsided victory.

``I felt bad for him, real bad,'' Iverson said. ``To hear the booing took a lot out of it. A lot of people, if they thought about it, what if it was their kid up there?''

Bryant, who grew up in Lower Merion, Pa., and whose father, Joe, played for the 76ers, heard the boos long and loud one last time as commissioner David Stern was presenting him with the MVP trophy.

He admitted that the crowd affected his performance _ he was scoreless in the fourth quarter and misfired badly on his last jump shot _ and said he didn't really understand why the locals seem to dislike him so much.

``My first game here in the NBA, my rookie year when I came out of high school, they booed me a little bit, too. That really, really hurt, because it was like my homecoming,'' Bryant said.

``I just look at it as them being die-hard Sixers fans I guess, being loyal to their team.''

He said he still likes coming home and still enjoys Philadelphia, offering up as proof the fact that he had eaten five cheesesteaks since arriving Thursday and was planning on having another before leaving.

``I'm happy I played well. I'm happy to win MVP in Philadelphia, and the booing was just hurtful, but it's not going to ruin this day for me,'' he said.

After Bryant got off to his strong start, Jordan was the next to reel off a series of spiffy plays. He went baseline for a driving dunk, followed with a fast-break layup and fed a no-look alley-oop pass to Antoine Walker that he failed to convert.

Jordan was all alone ahead of the field a few moments later, but blew a one-handed dunk, causing his Eastern teammates to rise on the sideline, laughing in unison. Jordan laughed off the moment, too.

``He looked like me on that dunk, because I've been missing breakaway dunks left and right this season,'' Bryant said.

The West held a 23-point lead entering the fourth quarter, but the East rallied. Paul Pierce scored the first four points of the quarter, McGrady also scored four in a row and Ray Allen hit a 3-pointer to complete a 13-0 run and make it 100-90.

The next five baskets were all 3-pointers, including a pair by Payton that helped the West maintain a double-digit lead, and a 7-0 run ending with a dunk by Elton Brand all but locked up the victory.

Payton added 18 points for the West, and Garnett and Duncan had 14 each.

McGrady led the East with 24. No Eastern starter finished in double figures, with Iverson shooting 2-for-9 for 5 points and Jordan going 4-for-13 for 8 points.

The teams combined for 23 3-pointers, an All-Star game record.