Never did Magnolia head coach Chito Victolero feel any worry whatsoever when Paul Lee struggled during the first half of their 2021 Honda PBA Philippine Cup quarterfinal series opener versus Rain or Shine, Sunday.
The gunslinging guard missed all of his six shots and only had one point to his name at the turn, with his Hotshots trailing by five.
He got his only point following a split from the line off a blocking foul from Andrei Caracut with 2:47 left in the second quarter – a foul that caused a welt under his right eye as his cheek banged onto the rookie’s shoulder.
But then, his mentor knew that he’ll always bounce back. “Kapag nag-struggle si Paul, alam ko naman na makakabalik at makakabalik dahil grabe ‘yung kumpyansa ng bata eh,” said the former Coach of the Year.
True enough, Lee did. The one-time BPC got his bearings back in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter. He scored 14 points to lead his side to the 81-70 victory for a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.
The 32-year-old finished with a game-high 20 points – none bigger than his triple with 1:10 left as the dagger to stop their foes.
Victolero, though, said that Lee brings more than just scoring. He also lauded his contribution on other aspects that have truly been of help for Magnolia.
“Even if hindi siya nakaka-shoot nung first half, he attracted the defense. And nag-o-open up for iba, for Ian -Sangalang], for Calvin [Abueva], for other guys,” he said, as Lee also had four rebounds and three assists.
“Hindi lang naman points ‘yung naco-contribute ni Paul. But overall, ‘yung kanyang presence importante,” Victolero added.
Nonetheless, he’s glad to see the 10-year vet regain his touch right away. And he hopes Lee will sustain such in the possible clincher.
“Nung second half naka-recover siya, at least pumapasok ‘yung mga tira. Hopefully magtuloy-tuloy hanggang sa Game Two,” he said.
But what about his right eye?
“Medyo nabawasan lang ng one-percent ‘yung kagwapuhan ni Paul,” Victolero quipped. “But expect naman namin ‘yan. Masakit ang katawan namin, may mga hit. This is the playoyffs. Walang magbibigay diyan kahit sino.
“Balewala naman ‘yun. Batang Tondo ‘yan eh.”