Paul Lee turns errant pass into game-winner as Magnolia squares semis series vs Ginebra
Paul Lee was in disbelief as he entered the press room for the customary postgame interview after turning what looked like a botch play into a buzzer-beating basket that prevented Magnolia from falling into a deep hole in their Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Commissioner’s Cup semifinal series with Barangay Ginebra.
“That was big, man,” Lee repeatedly said as his bank shot after recovering a loose ball gave the Hotshots a dramatic 96-95 win that drew level at 1-1 their best-of-five series on Friday at Philsports Arena in Pasig City.
Lee’s winner led to a frantic celebration from Magnolia players, including import Nick Rakocevic, who was glad to have made up for his meltdown in the series opener with a splendid showing on both ends.
PAUL LEE. CARDIAC. FTW!
— PBA (@pbaconnect) December 16, 2022
Indeed, Rakocevic came out ready to play. But the big man, redeeming himself from getting tossed for losing his cool, anticipates that his patience will again be tested now that the Manila Clasico duel is expected to hit fever pitch.
“It’s gonna be hard, it’s gonna be aggressive, it’s gonna be tough, it’s gonna be physical and it’s gonna be games like that,” Rakocevic said after finishing with 23 points and 20 rebounds.
“But we got to stay composed and play our game. I think we’ll be fine,” added the former Serbian youth team player who hopes to help the Hotshots take a 2-1 lead on Sunday night at the same venue.
Rakocevic vows to show the same poise moving forward after being tossed in the Hotshots’ 87-84 defeat when he received a technical for reacting wildly to a call and for tripping Christian Standhardinger.
“It hurt me in my heart and in my soul,” he said. “Knowing that I couldn’t do anything about it so I made sure I would do anything I could to stay on the floor. I made a promise not to do it again and I apologized so it’s not gonna happen again.”
Moment of madness’
Coach Chito Victolero hailed Rakocevic for displaying the form that made him one of the frontrunners for the Best Import award, and was glad that his moment of madness happened at the early stage of the series.
“Since our last two games of the eliminations and our quarterfinal game [against Phoenix], I was expecting it to happen,” said Victolero. “But I feel that it’s also a blessing because it happened early in Game 1. I think it will not happen again.”
Paul Lee in disbelief upon entering the press room after converting a buzzer-beating basket that gave Magnolia a 96-95 win over Barangay Ginebra.Lee's winner enabled the Hotshots to draw the best-of-five semifinal series level at 1-1. | via Jonas Terrado, Inquirer Sports
Posted by Inquirer Sports on Friday, December 16, 2022
His performance plus key baskets from Mark Barroca—and some help from above—allowed Magnolia to escape the jaws of defeat and denied Ginebra a commanding 2-0 lead that would have made the odds tougher for the Hotshots.
Magnolia trailed 94-95 after Stanley Pringle’s triple with 5.1 seconds to go. Calvin Abueva was able to beat a five-second inbound violation—though many fans countered that it was a missed call—and found Lee on the right elbow.
Lee drove and went for a pass to a cutting Abueva, only for Jamie Malonzo to make a deflection. But the ball went back at the Magnolia guard and was able to score the basket in the nick of time.
“Paul was unbelievable. He’s fearless and you got to tip your hat off to Paul, he saved us,” said Rakocevic.
The 10-year veteran finished with 24 points to continue a string of strong performances in the Pasig City venue.
“I’m just riding my rhythm right now. Since I play here at Philsports, I feel like I play with a good vibe,” said Lee.
Bay Area repeated over San Miguel Beer in the nightcap, this time with a convincing 114-95 victory for a 2-0 lead and a win shy of advancing to the finals.
The Dragons can wrap it up on Sunday with a chance of becoming the third foreign team and fourth guest squad to reach the PBA’s pinnacle stage.