Raymund Almazan returned to the Meralco roster and gave the team, pardon the pun, the bolt that it needed.
“He was a big boost for our team,” coach Norman Black said after getting five points and five rebounds in less than 10 minutes from his 6-foot-7 center as the Bolts rebounded from a pathetic debut in the PBA bubble in Clark Freeport with a 93-81 ripping of Alaska on Wednesday night for their first Philippine Cup win at Angeles University Foundation.
“He gives us athletic ability inside the paint and pretty much matches up against any team’s size when he’s out there,” added Black, who got double figure scores from four veterans led by the 17 of gunslinger Allein Maliksi as Meralco rose to 1-1. “He was on time restriction on how long he can play; we can only play him 10 minutes. But hopefully, in the future, we’ll be able to increase that going forward.”
Despite seeing limited action as part of his recovery, Almazan’s short stint on the floor was more than enough to make the Bolts look like a much better team compared to 116-98 loss to Phoenix on Monday, where Meralco looked so bad that it looked like it didn’t have a business being in the confined space for the league’s restart.
“Tonight, we focused on our identity, which is defending,” said Black, whose charges enjoyed leads as many as 19 points and went on to deal the Aces a second straight defeat.
Also playing well was Aaron Black, Norman’s son who had a forgettable debut against the Fuel Masters.
The younger Black drained a triple and then converted on two charities in a 12-0 run early in the fourth period, which practically put the Aces away. He finished with eight points and obviously did his dad proud.
Alaska was never in the game this time, unlike in a 100-95 loss to TNT Tropang Giga on reopening day where the Aces had a chance to win and actually had control of the contest.
And that also translated on the offensive end, with Maliksi scoring a team-best 17 points, and guard Baser Amer adding 15.
Alaska drew 25 points from Jeron Teng, and 18 from Vic Manuel. The duo, though, didn’t get enough support.
It was a timely change for Meralco, and especially for Black, who candidly talked about how a loss is being magnified in a place where every competing team is each other’s neighbor.
“It’s a bit difficult losing in the bubble because you see all the teams, you see all the officials and you can’t really get away from the basketball because of the atmosphere,” he said.
But at the same time, he feels like the same works for victories.
“This gives us confidence,” he said as he looked toward Sunday’s game, where the Bolts play a familiar foe in Barangay Ginebra. “I think it takes a little bit of the pressure off the players to get in the win column and it also gives us a lot of confidence going into our game on Sunday against Ginebra.”
“We calmed down from the first game. This [win] takes a lot off of us,” Maliksi said. “We had such a long break and everyone was excited to play.”
Alaska, meanwhile, takes on Magnolia this Saturday. INQ
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