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Christmas comes early for Giant Lanterns

MANILA, Philippines — Pampanga ascended to the throne as the MPBL king for the first time, completing a sweep of Bacoor on the road with a narrow 82-77 win in Game 3 of the best-of-five National Finals last Saturday at the Strike Gym in Cavite.

The Giant Lanterns, who won the first two games at home, outscored the Strikers by 10 points in the telling fourth quarter for a 3-0 finale sweep that capped their perfect playoff campaign.

Pampanga topped the elimination round with a stellar 26-2 record before sweeping Marikina, Caloocan and San Juan in the North Division finals to arrange date versus Bacoor between first-time national finalists.

Even Bacoor’s homecourt advantage wasn’t enough to halt the Northern juggernaut as Encho Serrano and Mythical Second Team member Archie Concepcion connived in Pampanga’s 34-24 finishing kick from a five-point deficit after three quarters.

Serrano fired 24 points, including 10 in the final frame, while Concepcion poured 12 of his 18 points in the clutch as the Giant Lanterns annexed their first-ever MPBL national crown.

MVP Justine Baltazar anchored their defensive stand with 11 points, 19 rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block with Kurt Reyson and Michael John Garcia chipping in 13 and nine points.

The wards of Pampanga governor and head coach Dennis “Delta” Pineda took care of their home games, 71-58 and 68-65. But they needed everything they could handle to pull off a tough win at Bacoor’s turf.

It was a nip-and-tuck battle from the get-go with both teams locking horns at 31-all after two quarters before the Strikers – the South Division champions – turned to their home fans for inspiration in building a 53-48 separation.

Serrano and Concepcion took over from there capped by Serrano’s bank shot in the final minute for a 78-70 Pampanga lead heading home.

Mythical First Team member and Most Improved Player JM Nermal paced Bacoor with 20 points as Mythical Second Team member James Kwekuteye (15) and veteran Jhaymo Eguilos (11) also had foiled efforts in the Strikers’ finale defeat.