ANTIPOLO CITY - Just being able to play on the court again with his Phoenix team was more than enough to bring the smile back on JC Intal's face.
Unfortunately, it was not the kind of welcome he expected in his return from injury.
Phoenix dropped a 96-87 decision against rampaging Barangay Ginebra on Wednesday night at the Ynares Sports Center here that spoiled the comeback of the high-flying forward from Ateneo.
Intal played for 20 minutes and finished with four points, a single rebound, and an assist in his first game for the Fuel Masters in the season-ending conference after removing bone spurs in his ankle during the season break.
"I'm just grateful na nakahabol ako kahit isang game sa elims, although disappointed also because we lost to Ginebra," said the blond-haired wingman after the game.
"It's a very important game for us and yun nga, napakawalan namin," he added.
Intal is still proud at the effort shown by the Fuel Masters, who refused to fold under pressure despite an early Ginebra attempt to pull away in the game.
He said the fighting spirit augurs well for the team, which faces the likely scenario of going through a playoff for the remaining quarterfinal berth.
The Fuel Masters ended the eliminations with a 5-6 record as they lost their remaining three games.
"May pag-asa pa kami. We remain positive. Buhay pa ang team," said Intal.
"Sabi nga ni coach Ariel (Vanguardia) mabait ang Diyos sa amin. May pag-asa pa kami," he added. "One game masungkit namin, pasok kami sa playoffs."
Intal said he's now 80 percent healthy and while there's still pain in his ankle, he continues to strengthen it through therapy, making him ready for the big battles ahead for the Fuel Masters.