MANILA, Philippines -- For the first time since the 2019 PBA Governors' Cup finals in January, Raymond Almazan entered the basketball court for the Meralco Bolts.
Almazan suffered an injury to his left knee in Game 3 of their best-of-seven finals series against Barangay Ginebra earlier this year. He braved the pain to play in Game 4, but sat out Game 5 where the Gin Kings closed out the series.
He made his first appearance for Meralco with three minutes to go in their PBA Philippine Cup game against the Alaska Aces on Wednesday night, and although Almazan only played limited minutes, he made an immediate impact for the team.
"Just having him back is a big confidence-boost for the team," Meralco coach Norman Black said of their center.
Almazan still had a minutes restriction and Black played him less than 10 minutes. But in that time, he put up five points and five rebounds while making all three of his free throws in a 93-81 win over Alaska.
Most importantly for Black, Almazan showed no signs of pain after recovering from a lateral meniscus tear.
"He gives us size, he gives us athletic ability inside the paint. We can pretty much match up with any team in the league, size-wise, when he's out there," said Black.
The center position has been Meralco's perennial problem especially during the All-Filipino Cup, but with Almazan in the fold, Black believes they can finally contend with the league's best teams. These include Barangay Ginebra, whom the Bolts play on Sunday.
The plan is to play Almazan more minutes against the Gin Kings. Prior to his injury in the finals, Almazan had been able to hold his own against Japeth Aguilar, who emerged as the Finals MVP of the series.
"Hopefully on Sunday, against Ginebra, since we're going up against Japeth Aguilar and some very big players, he'll be able to play more minutes in that particular game," said Black.
"So, he got his feet wet tonight. He has not been on the basketball court for quite a while since he got injured in the championship series against Ginebra last year, or I should say this year. I think he was very happy to be back on the court again," he added.
Four players scored in double-digits for Meralco in their win, led by Allein Maliksi with 17 points and Baser Amer with 15. But Black was happiest with their defense, as they limited the Aces to only 38% shooting from the field.
"Tonight we really focused on what we feel is our identity, which is to defend," said Black. "I was just telling the players, let's do a very good job defensively, limit their offensive rebounding, and give ourselves a good chance of winning. That's what the players did tonight."