MANILA, Philippines -- An early birthday present.
This was how Meralco big man Raymond Almazan considered his game-winning three-pointer against Barangay Ginebra on Sunday night, as he nailed the shot that propelled the Bolts to a 106-104 triumph.
Meralco had lost all of a 21-point lead and trailed by one point, 104-103, off an LA Tenorio three-pointer with 1:12 left to play. But the Bolts had a response, as Chris Newsome dished to Almazan for a triple of his own at the top of the key.
The shot -- Almazan's lone attempt from long distance throughout the game -- hit nothing but net and pegged the final score of the contest.
"Noong tinira ko 'yun, parang sabi ko, pam-birthday Mo na lang sa akin 'to, kasi birthday ko sa Tuesday eh," said Almazan, who turns 33 tomorrow. "So, kung pwede. Kasi struggle ako noong first to third eh."
The Meralco center went 3-of-8 in the first three quarters, but was grateful to still be given the chance to play in the clutch.
"Thank you kay coach, kasi kahit na struggle ako, noong last six minutes, sinabi niya sa akin na bumawi ka," Almazan revealed. "Lahat naman kami, nag-tulungan eh. I'm happy na natalo namin 'yung Ginebra sa series, kasi ang hirap nila talunin sa series."
"Sinasabi talaga sa akin ni Coach Luigi [Trillo] na 'pag may libre ako sa trailer, i-tira ko. Eh kanina, parang iniisip ko na lang, wala na. Pagka-shoot ni LA, lamang sila. Noong pumasok, ayun," he added.
Almazan finished with 11 points, nine rebounds and two assists in 21 minutes of action.
Luigi Trillo, who is calling the shots for Meralco in place of Norman Black, said they had no doubt that Almazan could deliver at that moment. Before Sunday night, Almazan had taken just seven three-pointers in the conference, making four of them.
"Raymond was struggling a bit at the start, but we practice that shot, and Raymond can hit that shot," said Trillo. "It took everybody, but we needed a three-point shot by Raymond to finally get our monkeys off our backs. So, super proud kay Raymond."
"You gotta give credit to everyone," added Meralco captain Chris Newsome, who had a triple-double in the win. "But of course, special shoutout to Raymond for hitting that shot. Big time."
Almazan's big shot ensured that Meralco defeated the Gin Kings for the first time in seven playoff meetings, and propelled them to the semifinals of the 2022 PBA Philippine Cup where they will play the top-seeded San Miguel Beermen.