THE Pampanga Giant Lanterns bunched seven points in the homestretch to thwart the Bacoor Strikers, 68-65, at home on Tuesday and move within a win of the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League Fifth Season national title at the Bren Z. Guiao Convention Center in San Fernando City.
With the count tied at 61, Pampanga struck through Archie Concepcion with three and a basket each by MJ Garcia and Encho Serrano, to swing the balance and post a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five National Finals.
Pampanga dominated Game One, 71-58, but met a more determined Strikers, who even wrested the lead, 56-53, with 8 minutes and 23 seconds left.
The Strikers had a chance to force an extension, but James Kwekuteye missed a hurried 3-point jumper and Mark Yee was unable to beat the buzzer for one last attempt.
Archie Concepcion, chosen for the second Mythical Team, led Pampanga with 13 points and 8 rebounds to earn best player honors over newly-installed Most Valuable Player Justine Baltazar, who posted 13 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists.
Encho Serrano contributed 8 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists, while John Lloyd Clemente and Jayson Apolonio added 7 points each for Governor Dennis Pineda, also the Giant Lanterns’ head coach.
Atoning for his dismal 2-point output in the opener, Kwekuteye poured 16 points, 12 coming in the first half as the Strikers stayed close, 29-33. By then, Baltazar had 11 points and five rebounds.
Bacoor got 12 points from Chito Jaime and 11 from Yvan Ludovice.
The game was tight from the start with neither team leading by more than 7 points till the end.
A long triple by Game 1 top scorer Kurt Reyson put Pampanga back on top, 50-49, after three quarters.
MPBL Founder and CEO Manny Pacquiao attended the game and awarded Baltazar with the special MVP ball during the awarding ceremonies of the season’s best performers earlier.
Baltazar was joined in the Mythical Five by Orlan Wamar of San Juan, Will McAloney of Nueva Ecija, Jhan Nermal of Bacolod, and last year’s MVP Jaycee Marcelino of Zamboanga Family’s Brand Sardines.
Pampanga will try to sweep the series on Saturday at the Strike Gymnasium in Bacoor.