While most PBA players took a step back from basketball during the pandemic, Barangay Ginebra's Prince Caperal was hard at work and couldn't really escape the grind even if he wanted to.
"He had the misfortune of living in the same building with coach Kirk (Collier, the team's skills coach)," coach Tim Cone said Thursday. "It was really a misfortune because coach Kirk made him work out every day during the pandemic. Poor guy.
"He was like every day, 'Come on, Prince, let's go to work!' Really, really hard on him, but it made him better, and he's got a better body, he's stronger."
The results from the training showed in the Gin Kings' 103-99 win against Blackwater in the 2020 Philippine Cup Thursday at the Angeles University Foundation Gym in Pampanga.
Caperal, who scored just 41 points all of last season, was instrumental in keeping a Ginebra offense afloat, putting up 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting to lead all scorers. He also flashed a pretty stroke from long range, making 5-of-7 threes, and added six rebounds and three assists in a career night against the Elite.
"We know Prince can score, and if you don't get a hand up on him, he's going to knock shots down. We know that from practice every day. That part of the game is not surprising us at all, it's just a matter of opportunity for him," said Cone.
"Remember he was backing up Greg (Slaughter) and Japeth (Aguilar). He is a center by trade, he's not normally a power forward, so he was playing behind two centers, so he wasn't getting much time. Now with Greg not in here, he's getting an opportunity to show what he can do," he added.
But Ginebra still needed to make amends for a spotty defensive showing to start the second half so Caperal's big night wouldn't go down the drain.
After allowing the Elite to fire 39 points in the third quarter, the Gin Kings locked in and regained control in the final period to improve to 2-0 in the standings, tying fellow league-leaders TNT and Phoenix on top.
Ginebra led by 14 early in the third but fell by four late in the quarter as Blackwater, which made 61.9 percent of its shots and made 5-for-9 threes after hitting just 6-of-23 in the first half, chipped away patiently behind Don Trollano and Mac Belo's exploits.
A Caperal corner three to beat the buzzer pulled the Gin Kings within one to end the period and gave them enough momentum to start the fourth, when Ginebra rolled out a 7-1 run to snatch away the lead for good.
But Ginebra, which built a 10-point lead in the final minutes, still had to endure some tense moments in the final minute before coming away with the win, needing a free throw from Jared Dillinger in the final 8.8 seconds to essentially wrap it up and put the game out of reach from the Elite.
"I'm just really impressed in the way they read the defense, and they reacted really well, made the right passes. We were scrambling most of the night," Cone said of Blackwater.
Stanley Pringle added 17 points, Thompson put up a 14-7-7 all-around line, while Jeff Chan and Japeth Aguilar added 12 and 11 each.
Cone said Ginebra still has to find its rhythm in the coming games but appreciated the effort his wards put in against a tough Blackwater team that eyed another strong game after winning its season opener last Monday.
"We still think that we have room to grow and get better. And our team is all about habits, and we just don't have the habits after a layoff of six months, but again I think those things will come. Better to be 2-0 than 1-1 at this point," he said.
"We didn't play a clean game today at all, but again, I just thought we battled. And we showed character. And that's what we want to represent us. I'd like to think that we're not there to play pretty and make great plays, we're there to win basketball games and I like the fact that our players are taking hold of that, and we can play a game that's not pretty, and still win it. And usually teams that can do that have a chance to win championships, and that's what we're shooting for."
Blackwater, now at an even 1-1 card, drew its offense from Don Trollano, who put up 23 points and 10 boards, and Belo (16 and seven) in the loss.
Barangay Ginebra (103) -- Caperal 24, Pringle 17, Thompson 14, Chan 12, Aguilar 11, Dillinger 9, Mariano 8, Tolentino 5, Devance 3, Tenorio 0.
Blackwater (99) -- Trollano 23, Belo 16, Sumang 14, Daquioag 11, Tolomia 7, Desiderio 7, Golla 6, Canaleta 5, Magat 5, Dennison 5, Escoto 0, Salem 0.
Quarters: 26-19, 49-37, 75-76, 103-99.
Aguilar (11 points, 4-for-12 shooting in 21 minutes) and LA Tenorio (scoreless in seven minutes) are still far from peak form. Cone said of Tenorio: "He's such a huge part of what we do and he just got to keep [focusing on] conditioning until he can get back and be ready to go.
Jared Dillinger, who battled a malady of injuries in recent seasons, was productive against Blackwater and had nine points on two threes to go with three boards and two assists in 18 minutes off the bench. "Jared seems to be in a really good place, physically. The only thing he struggles right now is the small complexities that we have defensively -- how to defend a ball screen our way, and how to change it in the middle of the game, stuff like that that he's not used to doing. But he brings so much energy and leadership that he's just invaluable," Cone said.
Blackwater vs. NLEX, Saturday, Oct. 17 at 4 p.m.
Barangay Ginebra vs. Meralco, Sunday, Oct. 18 at 6:45 p.m.