SMART CLARK GIGA CITY–Locked in another close battle with the same foe, Magnolia coach Chito Victolero only needed to look at a previous grind-out match against Rain or Shine to prevail anew on Saturday.
Victolero said the Hotshots reviewed their semifinal decider versus the Elasto Painters last year to carve out a 70-62 win–their fourth straight in the PBA Philippine Cup bubble that pushed them to a share of fifth with the San Miguel Beermen on a similar 5-4 record.
“That’s 2019, all-Filipino, Philippine Cup also, Game 7 of the semifinals. Binalikan namin ‘yung game last night. It’s a grinding game and we talked about grind,” recalled Victolero.
Magnolia outlasted Rain or Shine, 63-60, in an overtime thriller back then to arrange a finals duel against eventual champion San Miguel.
With that, Victolero knew they only had to replicate their endgame composure.
“The most important thing is ‘yung composure namin nandun. We executed in the last five minutes on both ends of the floor. Natatandaan namin ‘yung mga nangyari before.”
But if there’s one striking difference between the two games, it was none other than Paul Lee.
Lee only scored 11 points in that past encounter against his former team while veteran Raffy Reavis and Ian Sangalang delivered the finishing blows.
Come Saturday night, the 31-year-old gunner was on fire as he exploded with 31 points, including the two dagger jumpers against Javee Mocon’s pesky defense to seal the deal.
The Angas ng Tondo has been waxing hot since the league’s resumption, dropping a total of 87 points in the Hotshots’ three games in a span of four days.
“Grabe ‘no?,” Victolero quipped. “Paul Lee is one big factor for us.”
But Victolero was quick to credit his other guards and players as well who are putting premium on their signature defense.
“Of course the defense of the guards, (Chris) Banchero, Jio (Jalalon), Mark (Barroca), Justin (Melton) and even (Rome) Dela Rosa. ‘Yun kasi ang system namin. And then Paul is our strength, ‘yung skills nya sa offense natutulungan nya kami.”
“‘Yung team naman namin is not about Paul Lee lang. He’s a big factor but the other 14 players are also very important for me.”