Pampanga eyes 2-0 lead over Bacoor in MPBL finals

Pampanga eyes 2-0 lead over Bacoor in MPBL finals
A returning Kurt Reyson delivered for the Pampanga Giant Lanterns.

MANILA, Philippines – The Pampanga Giant Lanterns shoot for an imposing 2-0 lead over the Bacoor Strikers at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in the MPBL (Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League) Fifth Season National Finals at the Bren Z. Guiao Convention Center in San Fernando, Pampanga.

Bolstered by the return of Letran star Kurt Reyson, the North Division champion Giant Lanterns trounced the South Division titlist Strikers, 71-58, in Game 1 of the best-of-five series and are favored for a repeat at their home court where they have gone unbeaten in 15 games.

Having ended his stint with the Knights in the NCAA, Reyson suited up and fired a game-high 22 points for the Giant Lanterns, who yielded the game's first two points but controlled the rest of the way to frustrate the Strikers.

Reyson compounded the problems of the Strikers, who already have to contend with Justine Baltazar, the runaway MVP race pacesetter, and the likes of Encho Serrano, John Lloyd Clemente, JV Bahio, MJ Garcia and Archie Concepcion.

The Strikers are determined to bounce back, but they can only do so if their defense holds, they don't get clobbered underneath, and their chief gunners--Jhan Nermal and James Kwekuteye--find their range.

Led by Baltazar's 16 rebounds, the taller Giant Lanterns ruled the boards, 54-41, paving the way for 34 points inside the paint and 19 more from fastbreaks.

Although Nermal persevered to tally 16 points on 4-of-12 shooting, Kwekuteye settled for two points after flubbing 11 tries. Jhaymo Eguilos exceeded expectations with 16 points, but could only pull down five rebounds for Bacoor, whose starting guard Aaron Jeruta finished with four points. Veterans Mark Yee and Chito Jaime and bigs Jammer Jamito and Michael Canete, who both wound up scoreless, should also contribute for Bacoor to tie the series.

The Giant Lanterns even showed more cohesion with 19 assists, 6 by Baltazar, against only 10 for the Strikers.

Pampanga Gov. Dennis Pineda, also the Giant Lanterns' head coach, said they would continue with their running game, control Bacoor's guards, and stay focused for Game 2.
Meanwhile, the MPBL will award this year's best performers before Game 2 on Tuesday.

To be feted are the Fifth Season's MVP, the mythical team members, the rookie of the year, the top homegrown player, the best defensive player, the most improved, and the impact player of the year. A sportsmanship award will also be given.

Also to be honored is the Executive of the Year among the team owners and managers of the 29 teams that competed.

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