MANILA - Magnolia head coach Chito Victolero was not worried even as Paul Lee labored in the first half of their quarterfinal game against the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters on Sunday afternoon.
Lee, who scores 17.0 points per game in the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup, was limited to one point in the first half after missing all of his six field goal attempts.
But he got his rhythm in the third frame, tallying five points as Magnolia outscored Rain or Shine, 23-8, to begin pulling away from the Elasto Painters. He then added 14 more points in the final period -- including the dagger three-pointer with just over a minute to go.
"Kilala naman natin si Paul eh. Anytime he can score, 12, 15 points in any given minutes," Victolero said after they completed an 81-70 win that gave them a 1-0 lead in their best-of-3 quarterfinals series.
"Talagang pag nag-struggle si Paul, ano naman 'yan eh, alam ko naman na makakabalik, kasi grabe 'yung kumpyansa ng bata eh," the coach added.
Moreover, Victolero points out that even as he struggled with his shot, Lee was still able to contribute in other areas of the game. He had three boards and an assist in the first half, and the defensive attention on him opened up the floor for their other players, particularly Ian Sangalang.
Lee finished the game with 20 points on 6-of-22 shooting, along with four rebounds and three assists in 36 minutes.
"He attracts the defense," Victolero said of Lee. "Nago-open up din 'yung iba for Ian, for Calvin (Abueva, for other guys. So, hindi lang naman the points 'yung nako-contribute ni Paul, but overall, 'yung kanyang presence, importante doon eh."
Lee also had to recover from an errant elbow from a ROS player that left a welt under his right eye, but it didn't appear to bother him particularly in the second half.
"Medyo nabawasan lang ng one percent 'yung kagwapuhan ni Paul," Victolero quipped.
"Noong second half, naka-recover siya. At least pumapasok 'yung mga tira, and hopefully, magtuloy-tuloy hanggang sa Game 2," he also said.
This wasn't the first time in the conference that Lee had shrugged off a slow start and piled up the points late in the game.
In their final elimination round game against San Miguel Beer, Lee exploded for 32 points -- 18 of which came in the fourth quarter -- to power the Hotshots to a 100-90 triumph.