MANILA, Philippines – Meralco traded a part of its future for Raymond Almazan – and that gamble finally paid off as it stunned reigning PBA Governors' Cup champions Magnolia.
Almazan delivered his finest game since getting acquired by the Bolts, registering 19 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 block in their come-from-behind 98-92 win over the Hotshots on Saturday, September 21.
Fresh from his FIBA World Cup stint with Gilas Pilipinas, Almazan was in his most lethal form as he came up with a string of crucial plays in the fightback.
He buried the triple that gave Meralco a 95-92 lead with less than 3 minutes remaining, sank a foul shot to extend their lead to 4 points, and swatted away a Mark Barroca layup with 17 seconds left to shut the door on Magnolia.
"This is probably the best game of Raymond Almazan since he joined our team," coach Norman Black told reporters after the game.
Acquired by the Bolts in May in exchange for two future first-round picks, Almazan had trouble proving his worth as he normed 7.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in the 8 games he played in the Commissioner's Cup.
But what people did not know, according to Black, is that Almazan was hobbled with injuries.
Still not fully healthy when he joined Meralco, Almazan reinjured his calf in practice and got sick for a couple of days – making it hard for him to play his usual game.
"He really could not get his bearings in the last conference, but I wasn't really concerned about that because I knew he was new to the team and he really didn't know the system that well," Black said.
"But we've had a chance now to get him comfortable with the team."
"The combination with him and [Allen Durham] is a very good combination defensively because Raymond can cover a lot of our mistakes defensively by blocking shots and AD can control the boards," Black added.
"I'm happy for Raymond, I'm happy that he came out and really came up with some big plays for us tonight."
Now 30, Almazan knows he could not afford to be complacent.
"I prepared for this. You should be 100% ready physically and mentally. We're not getting any younger," Almazan said in Filipino.
"There are young guys coming in the league who are stronger and more athletic so we need to bring our game up."
And with a triumphant conference debut, Almazan has big plans for the Bolts, who fell short of the Governors' Cup crown in 2016 and 2017 and were eliminated in the semifinals last year.
"I don't want to relax. I want to work this conference. I want Meralco to be a contender every conference."
Almazan added: "I want us to be in the semis and finals because I miss the feeling of being there." – Rappler.com
Delfin Dioquino dreamt of being a PBA player, but he did not have the skills to make it. So he pursued the next best thing to being an athlete – to write about them. He took up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas and joined Rappler as soon as he graduated in 2017.