Meralco's frontliners will need to work double time as starting big man Raymond Almazan is doubtful for Game 4 of the PBA Governors' Cup finals against Barangay Ginebra or even the remainder of the series altogether due to lateral meniscal tear on his left knee.
Almazan suffered a bad fall off an undergoal stab and limped out just six minutes into Game 3, leaving a huge gap in the Meralco middle that the Gin Kings exploited en route to a 92-84 win and a 2-1 series lead.
"It's a big blow. Raymond has been playing great this series - rebounding, defense, 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," said Bolts import Allen Durham.
That next man is primarily Bryan Faundo, who actually did well and scored 10 pinch-hitting for Almazan in Game 3, then seldom-used Reynel Hugnatan, a veteran of many PBA playoffs wars.
The 6-foot-8 Almazan, who was acquired by Meralco in a mid-season trade with Rain or Shine, averaged 17.5 points, 11 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in the first two games of the finals, greatly easing the load for Durham, the focal point of Ginebra's defense.
Meralco team manager Paolo Trillo on Tuesday said the Bolts are still making their assessment on how to deal with Almazan's injury.
"We'll talk to him and assess," Trillo said as he confirmed the result of Almazan's MRI tests.
Coach Norman Black said Almazan's exit in Game 3 defintely took its toll on Meralco, with Ginebra's Japeth Aguilar having a field day and posting 23 points, and seven blocks.
"Our biggest concern is the fact that when Raymond was not around. You saw what happened with Japeth, he pretty much ran wild out there on the court," said Black.
"What he has done this conference is give us an opportunity to match up the big man of the other teams and without him, we almost had a hole in the middle. We will just try to find a way to camouflage it or try to fix it," he added.(OL)