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MANILA, Philippines – No other player came close to Justine Baltazar.
The former La Salle standout ran away with the Season Most Valuable Player award as his Pampanga Giant Lanterns also inched closer to the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) championship.
Baltazar posted averages of 17.4 points, 16. 9 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 1.2 blocks to lead Pampanga to the North Division crown and on track toward the national title.
A proud son of Mabalacat, Baltazar also led this year’s Mythical Team composed of Jhan Nermal of the Bacoor Strikers, three-point king Orlan Wamar of the San Juan Knights, Will McAloney of the Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards, and last year’s MVP Jaycee Marcelino of Zamboanga Family’s Brand Sardines.
Baltazar, who had an uneventful stint with the Hiroshima Dragonflies in the Japan B. League last year, emerged No. 1 in field goal accuracy with 54.8% and minutes played with 31.1.
What distinguished Baltazar, however, was his propensity for double-double performances, recording 22 in one stretch en route to a total of 31 in 33 games.
Baltazar again posted a double-double on Tuesday night, November 28, as the Pampanga Giant Lanterns weathered the Bacoor Strikers’ repeated rallies, 68-65, in Game 2 to move within a win of the MPBL Fifth Season national title.
The 26-year-old Baltazar unloaded 13 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 assists, and Archie Concepcion also came through the clutch to finish with 13 points and 8 rebounds in the thriller at the Bren Z. Guiao Convention Center in San Fernando, Pampanga.
With the count tied at 61, Pampanga bunched 7 points – with a three from Concepcion and a basket each from MJ Garcia and Encho Serrano – to swing the balance and post a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five National Finals.
Pampanga dominated Game 1, 71-58, but met a more determined Strikers this time.
The Strikers had a chance to force extension, but James Kwekuteye missed his three-point jumper and Mark Yee was unable to beat the buzzer for one last attempt.
Atoning for his dismal 2-point output in the opener, Kwekuteye poured 16 points, 12 coming in the first half.
Bacoor also got 12 points from Chito Jaime and 11 from Yvan Ludovice.
Earlier, Concepcion and Kwekuteye landed spots in the Second Mythical Team along with Rob Celiz of Makati, Jheckster Apinan of Batangas, and Ryan Paule Costelo of Pasig.
Nermal, a former welder and construction worker from Kabankalan, Negros Occidental, also earned the Most Improved Player award.
Other standouts recognized were Adrian Nocum of San Juan as Rookie of the Year, Chris Masaglang of General Santos City as Best Homegrown, and Jason Ballesteros of Pasig as Best Defensive Player.
Highflyer Poypoy Actub of Imus was cited as Impact Player of the Year, drawing huge crowds with his aerial acrobatics, highlighted by a record seven-dunk binge against Bulacan in August.
Nueva Ecija’s Jay-R Taganas received his third Sportsmanship award.
Completing the awardees was Executive of the Year Manuel Carlos “Goody” Ilagan, president and CEO of Camaya Coast Beach Properties which sponsors the Bataan Risers.
MPBL founder and CEO Manny Pacquiao awarded the MVP ball to Baltazar as commissioner Kenneth Duremdes handed out the other awards. – Rappler.com