Paul Lee proved to be lethal anew down the stretch on Friday night, leading Rain or Shine to a thrilling 105-97 victory over Alaska and into the early lead in their best-of-seven titular showdown for the PBA Commissioner’s Cup crown at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The 6-foot Lee played his finest performance in the season so far, piling up a team-high 20 points, spiked by four triples, the last of them putting the Elasto Painters into safer grounds in the face of the gritty Aces’ stand at 99-94 with 51.4 seconds to play.
But Lee admitted he had to endure anxious moments in the crunch after their burly import, Pierre Henderson-Niles, accidentally stepped on his right ankle following a daring drive to the basket, with Rain or Shine protecting just a precarious three-point lead with 1:39 remaining.
“Medyo nag-worry ng kaunti kasi ang bigat nu’ng import namin,” Lee said, still visibly enduring the pain after emerging from their dug-out. “Natapakan ako. Medyo sumasakit siya ngayon. Pero kaya naman. Kaya naman tiisin ‘yung sakit.”
What made Lee’s performance notable was the fact that he came off the bench and played a little over 22 efficient minutes, making seven of his 12 tries from the field aside from adding a rebound, a steal and a steal.
“Lagi ko lang sasabihin na perfect timing,” said the former University of the East star, who was slowed down by a left knee injury early in the mid-season tourney. “Sana magdire-diretso na. Itutuloy ko lang ang ginagawa ko. Malaking bagay ‘yun sa team.”
Although they were pushed to their limit, the Elasto Painters managed to hold their ground against the Aces’ vaunted defensive pressure, coming up with just 13 errors, one less than their rivals’.
Rain or Shine, however, made its foes pay on those miscues, turning it to 27 points, nearly triple of Alaska’s production.
“We played as a team. We just moved the ball. Kapag may double, pass agad. Huwag na i-challenge ang press nila. Nag-work naman,” stressed Lee. – By Jerome Lagunzad
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