Coming off a disappointing Game One performance, Jong Baloria made sure to step up in Makati-Super Crunch’s win-or-go-home bout against the top-ranked San Juan-Go for Gold in the 2020 Chooks-to-Go MPBL Lakan North Finals, Wednesday.
After averaging 15.0 points per game in Makati’s first five playoff games, Baloria was shackled by the Knights defense in the series opener. They limited him to only two points on a dismal 1-of-5 shooting from the field along with three rebounds, an assist, and a steal.
But with Makati’s season on the brink, the 29-year-old Baloria stepped up in the biggest of ways. And he even collected a milestone in the process.
“Kasi nag-off ako nung Game One. Ngayon sobrang luwag nila sa akin, unlike nung last game, naka-stay sila sa akin. Ngayon, ayun kada pasa sa akin nasho-shoot ko naman,” explained Baloria.
The product of Perpetual Help fired 10 of his 18 points in the final period to lift Makati to a tight 91-88 victory, while handing San Juan its first-ever playoff loss to force a Game Three on Saturday. He also shot 63.6 percent from the field and grabbed four boards in the win.
And besides the victory that saved Makati from the jaws of elimination, the 29-year-old Baloria became the fourth player in MPBL history to reach the 1,000-point mark. He joins the elite company of San Juan’s John Wilson, Marikina’s Yves Sazon, and Davao Occidental’s Mark Yee.
Baloria solidified his place in the books after converting a three-pointer with 53 seconds left in the second quarter, giving Makati a 36-33 advantage.
“Sobrang laking blessing sa akin, pero ‘di ko naman inisip eh. Kumbaga sabi ko, ‘Lord, kung ibibigay mo naman sa ‘kin, nasasayo na, bonus na lang sa akin.’ Basta nag-focus ako sa game namin,” said the five-year pro, who hails from Tubod, Lanao del Norte.
“Gusto kong manalo kami. Kahit two points ako, ngayon basta importante manalo kami.”
And Baloria had a huge motivation which led to his fine performance.
Makati was supposed to play on its home turf for Game Two, even securing the permission from the city’s brass to use Makati Coliseum. However, the local government changed its decision at the last minute due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
But despite playing at the FilOil Flying V Centre for the second time in the series, Makati enjoyed an almost-neutral venue as fans were barred from entering the arena as a precaution.
“Kahit kaninong court sanay naman kami eh. Kasi, parang inisip na lang namin na kagaya nung kalaban namin ‘yung Bulacan ng semis, ‘di namin inisip… Kumbaga gawin nating kalakasan natin na… gawin ng motivation na kahit home court nila, kaya nating lumaban,” said Baloria, as Makati also handed San Juan its first defeat at home.
“Sobrang laking tulong sa amin kasi walang nagbo-boo sa amin, kumbaga neutral. Parang ‘di rin nila home court, pantay-pantay, ganun.”
Baloria, though, is not counting out the defending champions just yet, knowing that San Juan will be a much deadlier team with its back to the wall.
With this, Baloria hopes that Makati still has enough gas to sustain its momentum and finish off the Knights come Game Three.
Story by Jonash Dannug
Photos by Joaqui Flores