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Hot Pampanga goes for jugular

Pampanga seeks a historic sweep while the Bacoor fights for survival in Game 3 of the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League National Finals on Saturday at the Strike Gymnasium in Bacoor, Cavite.

The Giant Lanterns dominated Game 1, 71-58, and survived Game 2, 68-65, to move closer to cutting short the best-of-five title series.

The Strikers, however, are determined to live another day before their fans and supporters. They showed that they could battle the Giant Lanterns on even terms on Tuesday and were hoping the hometown crowd would provide the morale boost for them to force Game 4.

Powered by newly installed Most Valuable Player Justine Baltazar, the North Division champion Giant Lanterns are slight picks to clinch their first MPBL national crown.

Baltazar is averaging 13 points, 14 rebounds and six assists in the Finals, which saw the Giant Lanterns rule the boards, 104-79, in the first two games.

The 6-foot-8 Baltazar will be supported by Game 1 best player Kurt Reyson, who is averaging 12.5 points, and Game 2 hero Archie Concepcion, who is averaging 10 points.

Other key players in Pampanga Gov. Dennis Pineda’s rotation are Encho Serrano, MJ Garcia, John Lloyd Clemente, JB Bahio and Jayson Apolonio.

For South Division champion Bacoor to avert a sweep, its main gunners — Jhan Nermal and James Kwekuteye — must step up.

Nermal is averaging 11 points while Kwekuteye is averaging nine points thus far. Jhaymo Eguilos has been a pleasant surprise with averages of 10 points and seven rebounds.

Eguilos, Mark Yee, Jammer Jamito, Chito Jaime and Michael Canete must neutralize Pampanga’s bigger frontline for Bacoor to stand a chance.

Also, Yvan Ludovice and Aaron Jeruta must be steady at the backcourt, where the Strikers have forced the Giant Lanterns to make more turnovers, 33-18.

Furthermore, the Strikers of Coach Alex Angeles need to improve their three-point shooting, where they only drilled in 14 of 58 attempts against the Giant Lanterns’ 16 in just 43 tries.

If Pampanga succeeds in blanking Bacoor, the Giant Lanterns will eclipse Batangas’ 3-1 victory of Muntinlupa in the 2018 MPBL inaugurals, San Juan’s 3-2 triumph over Davao in 2019, Davao’s 3-1 conquest of San Juan in 2020, and Nueva Ecija’s 3-1 romp over Zamboanga in 2022.

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