TOP-ranked Pampanga essayed a thrilling 82-76 comeback win on the road against San Juan to win the North division and march on to the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) national finals on Tuesday night at the Filoil EcoOil Centre in San Juan.
The Giant Lanterns clawed back from 19 points down, including a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter, as they completed a 2-0 sweep of the Knights in the division finals to extend their perfect playoff campaign so far.
Pampanga, which previously trounced Marikina in the quarterfinals and Caloocan in the semifinals, will face the winner of the South Division featuring Bacoor with a 1-0 lead against Batangas.
Ace guard Encho Serrano led the way for Pampanga with 16 points, four rebounds and seven assists. He had 11 points in the fourth to outscore the entire San Juan squad as Pampanga unleashed a 25-6 finishing kick.
Michael John Garcia chipped in the same output as team captain Justine Baltazar flirted with a triple-double of 14 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists laced by two steals and a block.
Allen Liwag collared a 10-14 double-double with John Lloyd Clemente firing 12 points highlighted by the dagger trey in the clutch to cap Pampanga’s epic comeback-from-behind triumph.
Pampanga stared at a massive 17-36 deficit in the second period and despite closing the gap at 38-43 at the turn got left off the dust anew as the hot-shooting San Juan buoyed by its roaring homecrowd managed to restore order at 70-57 entering the payoff period. There, the Giant Lanterns lived up to their lofty billing as the MPBL’s No. 1 team with a peformance for the ages as Mr. Serrano joined hands with Messrs. Garcia, Baltazar and Clemente, whose booming triple in the final two minutes gave them a 77-73 lead heading home.
Marwin Taywan (18), Orlan Wamar (16) and Nikko Panganiban (14) showed up but the Knights still ended their valiant campaign in a return trip to the MPBL division finals after dethroning national champion Nueva Ecija in the semifinals. — John Bryan Ulanday