PAUL Lee turned almost certain defeat into victory for Gilas Pilipinas on Saturday night, fishing for a foul at the buzzer and calmly hitting the three free throws that clinched a 80-79 victory and broke the hearts of China and its stunned home fans in the Fiba Asia Cup.
The plucky Lee put a fitting end to an impressive debut tournament for Gilas as he salvaged a game that the hosts appeared to have wrapped up with 6.2 seconds left as Wang Zhelin stood on the line for two free throws and China holding on to a two-point lead.
To everyone's surprise, he missed both free throws.
Even more incredibly, Lee managed to save an outlet pass by LA Tenorio from going out of the sideline and set up for a three-point shot. He also had the presence of mind to fake off two Chinese defenders who desperately pursued him, finishing for a foul as the buzzer sounded.
Ironically, the Rain or Shine star had more or less the same play in Game One of the Governors Cup Finals against San Mig but PBA referees refused to call a foul on a charging Marc Pingris.
This time, the referees blew their whistle.
With a stadium full of people jeering him, the former University of the East star cooly sank the three free throws to clinch a podium finish for Gilas, which improved on its two fourth-place finishes in the last two editions of this tournament.
Lee finished with nine points — only the second time in the competition he failed to reach double figures scoring. But he turned in his most memorable performance yet that raised the clamor for his inclusion in the Gilas team bound for the Fiba World Cup and the Asian Games.
He also had plenty of help.
Ranidel de Ocampo was on target as he knocked in all his three-point shots and missed only one of his eight shots as he registered a team-high 18 points, while Marcus Douthit held the fort with 22 rebounds, 10 points, two blocks, two assists, and one steal.
The young China team failed to take advantage of its height advantage, getting outrebounded by Gilas by 12 rebounds, 30-42 and had only 26 points in the paint, 10 less than their smaller opponents.
The Filipinos, with LA Tenorio tasked with the ball-handling chores, also spread the wealth with a 21-10 assists edge against the Chinese.
Still, Gilas trailed most of the way. China even threatened to pull away as they held a 75-66 lead halfway through the payoff period.
But the Filipinos slowly clawed back, finishing the game with a 14-4 run, capped by the go-ahead charities by Lee.
It was Gilas’ first taste of the lead since 31-28, when the squad banked on a 16-4 salvo to start the second quarter, capped by eight straight points from Beau Belga, that erased a nine-point lead.
Gilas 80 – De Ocampo 18, Aguilar 14, Tenorio 12, Douthit 10, Belga 10, Lee 9, Lanete 3, Washington 2, Dillinger 2, David 0, Alas 0, Fajardo 0
China 79 - Makan 23, Gao 11, Tao 11, Zhou 10, Wang 9, Gu 7, Zhang 6, He 2, Dong 0, Zhao 0, Cao 0, Duan 0
Quarterscores: 15-24, 38-44, 60-62, 80-79