MANILA, Philippines - Rain or Shine star rookie guard Paul Lee has been declared out for the rest of the series, re-installing the B-Meg Llamados as the solid picks and the Elasto Painters the sentimental choice as they head to Game Three in the PBA Governors Cup finals tonight.
Without Lee to orchestrate their play and provide the spark, spunk and class, the E Painters will have to lean on somebody else to step up as they battle the Llamados for the 2-1 lead in their best-of-seven series at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Lee, the leading contender for the Rookie of the Year award, re-injured his shoulder in the last quarter of Game Two, which B-Meg won, 85-80, to square the series. Lee is scheduled to undergo surgery next week.
Despite his absence, however, coach Yeng Guiao maintains they will win the series.
B-Meg main man James Yap, meanwhile, said he would rather see what happens on the court while coach Tim Cone had wished Lee could come back.
“I hate to see a guy go away like that,” said Cone, adding later his concern on the extra pressure they face against a Lee-less Rain or Shine side.
“If he doesn’t play, it puts the pressure on us. It makes us an instant favorite,” Cone pointed out.
“This series is for the fans and for the league. We don’t want to win because someone gets hurt or knocked down,” Cone also said.
“He’s a big loss to his team. Our job will be lighter if he’s not there,” said Yap.
The Rain or Shine organization, however, remains confident of its chances to nail a breakthrough championship.
“The series is reduced to a best-of-five. I’m confident the other players will step up in the absence of Paul,” said co-team owner Raymond Yu, whose wards dominated the Llamados in the series’ opener, 91-80.
The first time Lee suffered the injury on June 17, the Elasto Painters still prevailed over the Barako Bull Energy, 100-90, then clobbered the Petron Blaze Boosters, 103-80.
On his return on July 1, Lee sizzled with 18 points, helping Rain or Shine nip Talk n Text, 92-90.
On his ouster in Game Two with 2:22 left, the Elasto Painters still waged a battle and just came out short, held off by Yap’s killer fade-away jumper in the closing seconds.
“I still feel good even as things didn’t fall our way,” said Guiao after their Game Two loss.
Players like Gabe Norwood, Jeff Chan and Ronjay Buenafe, however, must exert extra effort to make up for the absence of Lee.
The former UE stalwart had been Rain or Shine’s top player in the season, especially in this conference where he placed second to Ginebra’s Mark Caguioa in the fight for the Best Player of the Conference honors.
No less than B-Meg import Marcus Blakely defended against Lee Wednesday.