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Giant Lanterns shine bright, bag MPBL title

Pampanga thus became the first MPBL team to blank its National Finals rival, shadowing the championship trips of Batangas in 2018, San Juan in 2019, Davao in 2020 and Nueva Ecija in 2022

photograph courtesy of MPBL THE Pampanga Giant Lanterns celebrate after beating the Bacoor Strikers, 82-77, to win the MPBL Fifth Season crown late Saturday at the Strike Gymnasium in Bacoor, Cavite.

The Pampanga Giant Lanterns bested the Bacoor Strikers, 82-77, to sweep their national title series and complete a dominant run in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League Fifth Season late Saturday at the Strike Gymnasium in Bacoor, Cavite.

Hounded by the Strikers up to the homestretch, the Giant Lanterns’ Justine Baltazar and Encho Serrano rose to the challenge, combining for eight points against a free throw by Bacoor to seal their third straight win, 78-70, with 50 second left and cut short the best-of-five affair.

The Giant Lanterns dominated the Strikers in Game 1, 71-58, and survived Game 2, 68-65, at the Bren Z. Guiao Convention Center in San Fernando, Pampanga.

Pampanga thus became the first MPBL team to blank its National Finals rival, shadowing the championship trips of Batangas in 2018, San Juan in 2019, Davao in 2020 and Nueva Ecija in 2022.

Bannered by Baltazar, who was the runaway Most Valuable Player in the regular season and the Finals, Pampanga topped the elimination round with a 26-win, 2-loss card en route to a sterling overall record of 35-2 this year.

Pampanga posted 2-0 sweeps over Marikina and Caloocan in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively, and duplicated the feat against San Juan in the North Division Finals.

Atoning for his poor performances in the first two games, Serrano poured 16 of his 24 points in the second half to earn Game 3 best player honors over Game 2 best player Archie Concepcion, who contributed 18 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter, and Game 1 hero Kurt Reyson, who chipped in 13 points, six rebounds and five assists.

Although not feeling well, Baltazar still got his double-double with 11 points and 19 rebounds on top of five assists, three steals and one block.

The 6-foot-8 center averaged 12.3 points, 15.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists and two steals.

Other Giant Lanterns who delivered for Gov. Dennis Pineda, also Pampanga’s head coach, were MJ Garcia with nine points and Allen Liwag with four points and 11 rebounds.

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