JARED Dillinger might as well be given a medal of valor by Meralco for playing through the pain in the PBA Governors Cup playoffs.
Dillinger has yet to fully recover from major procedures done on him prior to the season-ending conference, but dutifully suited up starting the quarterfinals in a bid to help the Bolts’ cause of returning to the Finals for the third straight year.
The big Fil-Am guard had a torn quad and bones spurs were removed from his right knee, which made him missed the entire eliminations at a time when the team was struggling to make the playoffs.
But he was reactivated in time for Meralco’s quarterfinals series against Phoenix to play his first game back in over two months.
“It’s healed, but it’s just really weak right now,” said Dillinger, who had to pack the knee with ice after every game.
“I’m not there yet, not even close,” he said.
The injuries to veterans Ranidel de Ocampo, and later Cliff Hodge, all the more established the significance of JD to the team.
Although his scoring has not yet been there, Dillinger has proven his value anew on defense, taking on the tough assignment of playing against Calvin Abueva in the quarters and now, Vic Manuel in the semis.
He was scoreless and had two rebounds and an assist in 16 minutes of play as the Bolts stunned the fourth seeded Aces, 97-92, in Game 1 of their best-of-five semis series Sunday night at the Ynares Center in Antipolo.
“Coach (Norman Black) trusts me to put me in the game, and I’m just trying to do anything that I can to fill up what Cliff does for us,” said JD.
“I’m just trying to play defense as all these other guys (Bolts) are killing, so it’s all good.”
Black had nothing but praises for his veteran guard, who has helped Meralco stretch its winning run to seven straight games – a franchise record – dating back to the stretch run of the eliminations, including three since Dillinger returned to active roster.
“I think even if statistically he (JD) didn’t show up on the scoreboard, just his presence and willingness to go out there and battle, really helped lift the morale of the team,” said Black.
Dillinger hopes to settle down in the coming games, although he admits getting back in shape while playing at a high level is not easy.
“I’ve just practiced for just about a week. And we’re trying to fast-track everything, but it’s tough,” he said.
“Slowly (but surely). We’ll see then.”