MANILA, Philippines—Raymond Almazan was a surprise starter for the Meralco Bolts in Game 4 of the 2019 PBA Governors' Cup finals against the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings on Wednesday.
Almazan had to be helped off the court just six minutes into Game 3 last Sunday after injuring his knee, and was later diagnosed with a lateral meniscal tear in his left knee.
But the big man joined the team in warm-ups ahead of Game 4, and was announced as part of the starting lineup. Almazan went on to score 12 points and grab 12 rebounds, but his efforts could not prevent Meralco from suffering a 94-72 demolition at Ginebra's hands.
"Tinanong ako ni coach kung gusto ko maglaro. Sabi ko gusto ko," said Almazan, who is taking painkillers three times a day to deal with his injury.
He is still feeling some pain — he compares it to getting his finger pricked with a needle — and Almazan is not used to playing with an injury.
But the alternative — sitting out the contest — was simply out of the question for him.
"Kaya ko naman," said Almazan. "Hindi ko naman sinasabing bayani ako, pero gusto ko talaga manalo. 'Yun 'yung way para siguro makatulong ako sa team."
Hearing the reaction of the crowd and his own desire to win helped him get through the game, but afterward Almazan could not help but be frustrated with the result of the contest.
The Bolts fell apart after a promising start, and they were outscored 28-17 in the second quarter by the Bolts. That put them in a 42-31 hole at the half, and they never recovered from there.
"Sabi ko sa mga teammate ko na parang ayaw nating maglaro today. Sana binigay na lang natin sa Ginebra 'yung trophy, kasi nagpapakahirap tayo tapos ganito lang 'yung lalaruin natin," Almazan lamented.
"Tsaka siyempre nag-e-expect sa amin 'yung management na, alam mo 'yun, kahit magandang series ba," he added. "Hindi 'yung blowout game. Medyo nakaka-frustrate 'yung ganoon."
Meralco coach Norman Black criticized his team's "embarrassing" effort in the game, and Almazan was in full agreement with his coach. He pointed out that his crew only lost by single digits in Games 1 and 3, but could not muster the same intensity in what was essentially a must-win game for them.
"Sabi ko nga, 'Nasa finals tayo, pare.' So 'yung ga ganoong bagay na dapat gawin mo sa court, ginagawa mo na ngayon. As in ngayon na, kasi wala ng susunod eh," said Almazan.
"Ang susunod All-Filipino na ulit, 'di ba? So ibigay mo na lahat ng kaya mo sa loob ng court."
With Meralco down 3-1 and on the brink of defeat, Almazan is hopeful he can play in Game 5 and help the Bolts force another game.
"Sana sa Game 5, makabalik pa rin ako. Kasi chine-check ko pa siya ngayon kung mamaya, sumakit siya, tapos mag-tight," he said.
Upon his diagnosis, Almazan was asked by his doctor if he wanted to play through the pain and his answer was an unequivocal yes.
"Talagang 100% gusto ko siyang ilaro. And then operahan siya after ng series. Six weeks akong pahinga, pero gusto kong tapusin 'yung series," he said.
Meanwhile, Black said the decision to play in Game 5 will be up to Almazan.
"All I can tell you is he said he did not re-injure it or he did not injure it any more than it is, so I'll always leave that decision up to him since it's his leg and I really can't feel what he's feeling. So I'll trust the player when it comes to playing or not," he said.
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