SMART CLARK GIGA CITY–Raymond Almazan was a perfect embodiment of the “no pain, no gain” mentality on Wednesday night.
Shrugging off a hurting jaw, Almazan went back in the closing moments and came up with the most crucial defensive play to preserve Meralco’s 83-80 victory over Barangay Ginebra that sent their PBA Philippine Cup semifinal series to a deciding Game 5.
The lanky big man was pulled out of the court after absorbing an accidental hit to the face from Japeth Aguilar with 4:55 left in the game and the score tied at 72 apiece.
Needing a towering presence under the basket, coach Norman Black redeployed the 31-year-old center with seconds remaining.
After veteran Reynel Hugnatan hit a huge jumper that handed the Bolts an 81-80 lead with 15.5 ticks left, Almazan rejected Stanley Pringle’s potential game-winning layup for the Kings which led to Chris Newsome’s wide-open basket to peg the final score.
“Tinanong ni coach kung okay ako. Kaya naman eh kasi ‘di naman ‘tong bibig ko ang maglalaro. ‘Yung paa ko naman ang tatakbo at kamay ko ang titira at dedepensa,” said Almazan.
That was the only block made by the former Gilas Pilipinas and the whole Meralco squad against Ginebra’s four.
Almazan, who also finished with 11 points and three rebounds, said he was already expecting Pringle to go for the go-ahead layup.
“Binigay na lang namin ‘yung best namin sa last 15 seconds kasi alam naming kakayudin nila sa ilalim at alam namin na kay Stanley sila pupunta,” he said.
“During the game, nung nakita ko na ‘di para kay Japeth, nag-ready na ‘ko mag-help kay Stanley. Maganda naman ‘yung timing ko.”
Black had nothing but good words for Almazan, who he has always seen as a big difference for the Bolts in the bubble season.
“That was a huge defensive block by Raymond. He’s really our inside defender, a guy we count on to be the last line of defense around the basket,” said the grand slam-winning mentor.
“He’s still not 100-percent yet but he’s getting better. And that was just a huge defensive play for us. It gave us a chance to tie the series 2-2 and of course, to possibly win Game 5 and move on to the finals,” he added.
Almazan, who has yet to regain his top condition after suffering a lateral meniscus tear in his left knee during the Governors’ Cup finals against Ginebra, is willing to buck all the pain come the no-tomorrow game.
“Saka na muna siguro ‘yung mga sakit ng katawan, tuhod, panga, dila. Set aside na muna lahat ‘yan. Titignan na namin ‘yung game namin sa Friday.”