GINEBRA is not one to let a golden opportunity pass by, especially with the lead in its PBA Governors Cup championship duel with tenacious Meralco at stake.
The Kings pounced on the early exit of Bolts center Raymond Almazan to hack out a 92-84 victory last Sunday and take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Almazan left the game right about the midway point of the opening quarter due to a left knee injury he suffered after an awkward landing following a strong drive to the basket.
The 6-foot-8 beanpole was carried off the court and into the locker room by his teammates and had magnetic resonance imaging done on the injury at the Makati Medical Center later in the night.
As of yesterday, the Bolts were still waiting for the official results of the MRI but coach Norman Black, in the post-game press conference, said he is bracing for the worst.
“I talked to him at halftime and he said he couldn’t move his legs,” Black related. “Being a former player myself, it’s never a good sign. I’ll try to be as positive as possible and hope he’s okay. But from being a player myself, having a swollen knee in the middle of a championship series is not something you can bounce back from very easily.”
The absence of Almazan, who went into Game 3 averaging 17.5 points, 11 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in the first two games, clearly took its toll on Meralco while boosting Ginebra.
“Huge,” was how Kings coach Tim Cone described the break that fell their way, and which his team took advantage of to go on a third quarter rampage that gave them as much as a 78-55 lead.
“I mean, we talked about it at halftime. I said this is the time for Japeth (Aguilar) and Greg (Slaughter) to really make a lot of forays into the paint, get some seals with Raymond out,” added Cone.
“Big difference. I mean, what, a one-point game at halftime? Then he went out, we got up by 20 points. Obviously, his presence or lack of presence was really felt. I hope he’s all right, that nothing major happened to him. He’ll have a couple of days off. We’re planning for him to play on Wednesday.”
Black is not so sure and is currently hard-pressed to find a way to plug what would be a very big hole in his team’s middle.
“What he (Almazan) has done this conference is to give us an opportunity to match up with the big men of the other teams,” said Black. “Without him we almost got a little bit of a hole in the middle. So we just have to try to find a way to camouflage or at least try to fix it.”
The remaining Meralco players visibly struggled, physically and mentally, in Almazan’s unexpected and sudden exit.
“From my viewpoint, we came out of the locker room very flat. We found out at halftime we’d probably lose Raymond for the rest of the game and possibly the rest of the series so
I think my guys were a little bit down and lacked the energy, the intensity going to the third quarter,” admitted Black.
“I don’t know for sure how much they were affected by the news but it seems to affect them going to the third quarter.”