ROOKIE big man Raymond Almazan said despite getting roughed up a few times during his defensive matchup with reigning MVP Arwind Santos, he hasn't lost his respect for the Petron Blaze star forward.
The reed-thin freshman out of Letran stood his ground defensively against the high-leaping Petron forward, challenging every shot of the 'Spiderman' and battling him tooth and nail for every looseball and rebound.
In the end, Almazan had the last laugh, finishing with 15 points on a perfect 6-of-6 shooting, along with five rebounds to help Rain or Shine carve out a 103-94 come-from-behind victory - its 10th in a row.
The win gave Rain or Shine a 2-0 lead in the semifinal series, moving the only non-San Miguel Corp-owned team in the Final Four within two wins of earning a second straight trip to the PBA Philippine Cup Finals.
“Nung first game, medyo nahirapan ako sa kanya (Santos), siyempre semis saka rookie ako. Pero sa second game, pinaghandaan ko talaga siya,” said the third pick overall of this year's rookie draft.
“Basta tumira siya, china-challenge ko lang siya. Hinahabol ko mga tira niya. Eh siguro, na-intimidate ko siya kahit di ako naka-block.”
So impressed was Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao with Almazan that he said the gangling big man "played like he was 250 pounds" on this night.
The former NCAA MVP even drew an offensive foul from Petron’s 6’10” center June Mar Fajardo, who shoved the Rain or Shine freshman center hard during a heated action underneath the Petron goal in the second quarter.
He also suffered a busted lip when he traded elbows with Santos in another play.
Almazan countered by hitting a three-pointer at the height of Rain or Shine's rally from 13 points down in the final period and a one-handed slam to cap the big fightback.
“Di ako nagba-backdown sa ganun (physicality). Di ako masisindak. Di ako natatakot sa ganyan,” he said. “Nauna sila (Fajardo and Santos) sa akin pero nandun pa rin ang paggalang ko sa kanila.”