The Meralco Bolts and their outnumbered fans understandaby feared for the worst when center Raymond Almazan took a nasty fall.
After finally finding the answer in the middle for their much-awaited championship trilogy against the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, Meralco is now in danger of losing their elite two-way big man to an accidental collision with Ginebra guard LA Tenorio in the first quarter of the 2019 PBA Governors' Cup Finals Game 3.
The Bolts were eventually defeated in the pivotal match, 94-82, but no news was more devastating than an MRI revealing a lateral meniscal tear on Almazan's left knee. He has been schooling opposing bigs with averages of 17.5 points, 11 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in the title series' first two games.
Even Meralco import Allen Durham acknowledged how "big of a blow" the absence of their starting center is. "Raymond has been playing great in the series whether its rebounding, defense, or putback scoring. So it's definitely a big loss. We'll see if he can come back. But if not, everybody else got to step up. Next man up."
Durham is hopeful the "next man up" he's referring to would be one, if not all of these frontcourt Bolts that still have a lot to prove:
Game 1 - 2:02 (0-1 fg, -5 +/-)
Game 2 - 7:34 (3 pts, 1-2 3p, 1-4 fg, 0 +/-)
Game 3 - 13:15 (10 pts, 5-8 fg, 2 reb, 3 pf -5 +/-)
After playing a combined nine and a half minutes in Games 1 and 2, the 6'6" slotman heeded coach Norman Black's call on the heels of Almazan's injury.
"Kailangan ko talaga mag-step up," Faundo was quoted. "Kahit sa anong paraan, gagawin ko. Kahit na maliit na bagay man yan or kahit ano, basta makatulong sa team. Kung ano lang yung maibigay ko, maitulong ko sa team, ready lang talaga. Every time naman, ready ako."
The journeyman big has to do a whole lot more, though, as Meralco's first center off the bench. Whether it's hitting the occasional three-pointer or boxing out for boards, the team sorely needs Faundo to make the most out of the extended minutes in his second stint with them.
Game 1 - 14:08 (0-3 fg, 2 oreb, 1 ast, -13 +/-)
Game 2 - 7:14 (1 dreb, 1 ast 3 pf, +6 +/-)
Game 3 - 28:40 (2 pts, 1-4 fg, 6 reb, 3 pf, +12 +/-)
The 6'4" forward went from being an indispensable blue-collar player in parts one and two of their Finals saga with the Barangay to barely contributing. His injuries are partly to blame for Hodge's struggles, but he's still also around his prime at 31 years old and has to pick his spots if he hopes to have any offensive impact.
Historically, the bulk of the Filipino-American bruiser's scoring is made up of second-chance points, so it wouldn't hurt for him to up his rebounding rate (3 rpg).
Game 1 - DNP
Game 2 - 0:23 (1 reb, 0 +/-)
Game 3 - 2:02 (-1 +/-)
Just like Hodge, the 41-year-old stretch center used to log significant minutes for the Bolts as the Splash Tito, before seeing his opportunities dip upon the arrival of Almazan. Hugnatan might be satisfied with a minor role, but he has regularly proven that he can still do some damage in his 17th PBA season.
In a crucial game last year, he celebrated his 40th birthday with a vintage performance of 19 points (14th in fourth quarter), six rebounds, and six assists:
Raymar Jose, Jason Ballesteros
Both are former Top 10 picks, with former, an ex-FEU stalwart being seven years younger than the latter, the former two-time NCAA Defensive Player of the Year. The two have yet to see action in the tightly contested series — Jose joined Meralco late last year via trade, while this is Ballesteros' second stint with the team.
Who knows? Maybe one of these sparingly used big men is "next man up" for Durham.