Of all people, it’s a journeyman who is among those leading Barangay Ginebra toward the right path — out of certain elimination and back into contention.
Prince Caperal followed up his 26-point, 8-rebound out-of-nowhere performance in Game 2 on Sunday, with 33 quality minutes in Game 3 on Tuesday.
The difference this time, Caperal’s contributions — 12 points, 4 rebounds and a 2-of-2 3-pointers — didn’t go to waste as Ginebra won 95-87 and injected interest in its best-of-7 semifinals series against San Miguel Beer by cutting down the deficit to 2-1.
“Prince played very well again tonight. It wasn’t a scoring type of game, although he did have that big desperation 3. It wasn’t a scoring game tonight, but it was a tremendous defensive game tonight,” coach Tim Cone said.
“We knew he was good. If you could see him every day in practice . . . It’s all about understanding what we do and how we do it and why we do it.”
Caperal’s most celebrated contribution in Game 3 came when he splashed a straightaway 3-pointer to stop San Miguel’s 11-0 run and stretch Ginebra’s lead to 86-80 less than 6 minutes to go in the game.
The 3-pointer, which Caperal buried as the shot clock wound down, brought the house down at Mall of Asia Arena, with Caperal running down the court the other way and his shooting arm raised.
“Paubos na shot clock, all bets are off na. Titira ko talaga ’yun. Lucky, pumasok,” Caperal said in an article posted on ABS-CBN Sports website.
“Parang big shot ’yun, it feels good na crucial. Buti na lang talaga pumasok.”
Big men who don’t often see a lot of action are normally foul-prone, but Caperal has become an honest defender against June Mar Fajardo, some 4 inches taller than the 6-foot-7 Ginebra center.
Caperal finished with just 1 foul and 1 turnover in Game 3, earning high praise from Cone.
“It takes a bit of time for everybody coming into our team to figure (out the system), but he’s got a very high basketball IQ also . . . and he’s using that,” the coach said.
“He’s listening to what we’re asking him to do and he’s executed it to perfection.”
Caperal bounced around 4 different teams before landing in Ginebra last month.
Now, the former Arellano University player fighting for minutes is battling the 4-time MVP in a high-stakes series and, in some ways, winning.
“Like I said, first game it was a revelation because of (Caperal’s) ability to shoot the ball and hold June Mar away from the basket, but tonight it was another revelation because he stuck his nose on the defensive side and did his work,” Cone said.
“The shot wasn’t falling as much, but he made it up on the defensive side, so yeah, very special 2 games for him and he’s going to continue to be a key to this series as long as Greg (Slaughter) is out.”
Cone added there remains no timetable for the return of Slaughter, whose foot continues to swell and hurt.
“If you ask me, I don’t know when Greg’s going to be back,” Cone said.
“We’re working on him every day. We got trainers at his house. Basically he’s doing 24-hour therapy trying to get back in, but nothing’s working so far.
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.)