Magnolia had excellent guard play on Wednesday night, enabling it to snatch its first win of the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup, and marking a successful start inside the bubble at the Clark Freeport Zone.
Paul Lee was undoubtedly the hero for his side with his four-point play. But the other guards deserve much credit, too, for the effort they displayed to tow the Hotshots from 22 down to the 103-100 victory.
Jio Jalalon and Chris Banchero finished with 19 points apiece, while veteran guard Mark Barroca added 13 markers. Magnolia, according to league stats chief Fidel Mangonon III, overcame the biggest deficit it faced in 15 years — or since Purefoods battled back from a 29-point deficit to stun Alaska in overtime, 86-84, in the 2005-06 Fiesta Conference eliminations.
“‘Yun naman kasi ‘yung strength talaga ng team namin eh,” said Lee, who finished with 18 points built on four three-pointers, referring to their guards.
Lee did admit there was a time when he felt puzzled with the team’s decision to become guard-heavy after it drafted Jalalon in the special Gilas draft back in 2016, feeling that they have enough pieces already.
Back then, he was just a new addition to the team, then carrying the Star banner. Rain or Shine had traded him for James Yap, further improving a rotation that already had the likes of Barroca, Justin Melton, and PJ Simon.
That move, which is easily one of the biggest deals in PBA history, was one of the key points of the storied franchise’s rebuild that saw them name Chito Victolero as their new head coach in lieu of Jason Webb.
“Dumating ako sa team, tapos si Jio ‘yung kinuha namin. Nung una parang questionable sa’kin, sa ibang tao, sa ibang players kung bakit ganun nangyari,” said the 2011 2nd overall pick of Rain or Shine, who was traded to Magnolia back on October of 2016.
But two Philippine Cup Finals appearances and a 2018 Governors’ Cup title later, Lee now understands why.
“Pero ‘yun nga, may purpose talaga si Coach Chito dun, na gusto niya talaga na fast-paced ‘yung laro namin. And the style of Coach Chito is ‘yung depensa talaga,” the 31-year-old reflected.
Yes, Magnolia has more than enough firepower on offense, but defense has been its bread-and-butter since Victolero took over. And a major reason behind that is their guards, as seen in their play versus NLEX.
The Hotshots were the league’s top defensive team last season. They allowed the least points per game at 89.5, and were limiting their opponents to just 39.7-percent shooting from the field.
This new season is unprecedented due to the pandemic but that doesn’t change the team’s goal of keeping their stature as the barometer of defense.
“Through the years, we’ve been in the Finals, we’ve won a championship because of my guards. And of course, with the help of my big men such as Ian [Sangalang], who has established himself as one of the best big men.
“But of course, ‘yun nga, that’s my system eh. It’s proven. We’re the number one defensive team last year, and so now that’s our goal also, to be the number one defensive team dito sa bubble,” Victolero said. “Kung madami akong maliit, makukulit. ‘Di lang naman madadal lang guards ko. Bukod sa maingay ‘yan, tinatrabaho rin nila.”