PAUL LEE bucked a lethargic start to send Magnolia to an 81-70 Game 1 victory over Rain or Shine in their best-of-three quarterfinals duel in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Philippine Cup on Sunday at the Don Honorio Ventura State University gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.

Lee—the flamboyant, sweet-shooting and go-to-guy from University of the East—scattered 14 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, while Ian Sangalang delivered eight of his 19 points earlier in the third period to help the Hotshots overhaul a 47-52 half-time deficit.

Magnolia outscored Rain or Shine, 23-8, in the third quarter to establish a 60-47 margin the Hotshots held on to the end.

Sangalang also hauled down 13 rebounds for the No. 3 Hotshots.

“If you work very hard, you will win this game,” Magnolia coach Chito Victolero said. “Game 1 is very important because this one will give you the momentum…so we prepared really hard for this defensive battle.”

A victory by Magnolia in Game 2 will move them in the best-of-7 semifinals next week.

Alex Cabagnot nailed a jumper with 1.5 ticks left as San Miguel Beer nipped NorthPort, 88-87, for a 1-0 lead in their best-of-three quarterfinal series.

“We worked on our execution on both ends of the floor, that’s why we kept on grinding,” Victolero added.

Playmaker Jio Jalalon and Rome de la Rosa added 10 points each, while Calvin Abueva collared 13 rebounds and posted eight points for Magnolia. Mark Andy Barroca contributed eight points and dished out five assists.

Rookie Leonard Santillan finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds while Rey Nambatac had 16 points for Rain or Shine.

Abueva, Northport’s Robert Bolick and TNT’s rookie Mikey Williams, meanwhile, are now in a three-way fight for the Best Player of the Conference.

Abueva topped the statistical race with 35.36 points in 11 games in the eliminations. He was 10th in scoring with an average of 16.1 points, fourth in rebounding with 9.7 rebounds and eighth in blocks with 1.7.

Williams, the Tropang Giga’s fourth overall pick this year, averaged 35.30 SPs, followed by Bolick with 35.27 SPs.

The other players in the top 10 were rookie Jamie Malonzo of Northport (31.5), Sangalang (31.3), CJ Perez of San Miguel Beer (30.7), Javee Mocon of Rain or Shine (31.1), Arwind Santos of San Miguel Beer (29.6), Jayson Perkins of Phoenix (29.4) and Scottie Thompson of Barangay Ginebra San Miguel (29.4).

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