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NBA Daily: Clint Capela Playing Key Role As Rockets Take Flight

Clint Capela is playing at a high level and could be the determining factor in how far Houston goes in the playoffs, writes James Blancarte.

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The Houston Rockets are on the cusp of reaching the milestone most had expected them to reach early in the season. When the Rockets acquired star guard Chris Paul in the offseason, the franchise did so with the postseason in mind. The goal is to win a championship, of course, but doing so would most likely require them to first confront the defending champion Golden State Warriors in the postseason. With both teams now up 3-1 in their respective semi-conference series, that outcome reasonably seems assured.

Having Paul, in addition to James Harden, this year’s presumed MVP, the hope was that another star could help carry the load. The third leg in the trio of success for the Rockets is arguably center Clint Capela. Harden and Paul both went out of their way to make it clear how critical Capela’s contributions are to the team’s overall success.

“You know, every single night, I mean, he has our back. And it feels good to have somebody have our back like he does. And so, he doesn’t get a lot of credit for it. He doesn’t, you know, ask for a lot,” Harden said. “He just goes out there and does his job every single night. And, you know, as a result, you know, six blocks tonight and 20 altered shots. That’s what he does.”

Utah Jazz Center Rudy Gobert, the favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year, is known for being a defensive menace at the rim. However, it was Capela who had two blocks on star rookie guard Donavon Mitchell and one on Gobert with less than five minutes to go in Game 4 to keep the Jazz in check and prevent them from making a comeback.

Capela put up 12 points, 15 rebounds, six blocks, two steals and two assists. Paul also brought up Capela’s defense and the “20 altered shots” Harden mentioned.

“So, when guys go in there and they see Clint, I think Donovan [Mitchell] drove one time and he saw Clint and he tried to pass it. And it’s a steal. I got the steal. That doesn’t show up on the stat sheet,” Paul said.

Paul led the team with a triple-double in Game 4, going off for 27 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists with two steals and one block in 35 minutes of action. But Capela’s presence helps to create more opportunities for Paul, who scored from mid-range frequently. Paul directly attributed much of his own direct success to the nuanced, hard to notice impact that Capela has on the game

“So, it shows how selfless Clint is, you know what I mean? It’s a lot of those midrange shots that we get because Gobert doesn’t want him to dunk,” Paul said.

Capela’s presence and contributions have helped to occupy Gobert’s attention, who can be an absolute terror to opposing teams. In the playoffs, Capela is averaging 90.6 percent of his points in the paint, per nba.com. Capela is key to the offense by constantly being involved in pick and roll with Harden and Paul and is always a lob threat, which forces opponents to stay close and force rotations when necessary. This simple action keeps the pressure on Gobert who has to try to prevent both the guard from scoring while keeping track of Capela. As good as Gobert is defensively, even he will get caught in between assignments, leaving Utah’s defense vulnerable to Houston’s explosive offense.

In addition, Capela did a good job last night expending extra energy running the floor and getting to the basket to score on the fast break.

Head Coach Mike D’Antoni summarized Capela’s impact succinctly.

“He just makes a difference on both ends,” D’Antoni stated.

For this series, Capela is averaging 15 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game. Capela has been effective on the boards and blocking shots despite the increased attention and focus the Jazz have placed on him. Capela made it clear that that attention won’t stop him.

“I’m still able to do what I do, get rebounds and be here. So, I’m just going to keep doing it consistently. This is what I need,” Capela stated. “I enjoy doing it.”

D’Antoni states that Capela has the physical tools and the mindset to be a force on the court.

“That’s just Clint having a nose for the ball, putting energy out there and just going after it. Sometimes there’s no explaining. It’s just he went after it and got it. And he’s long and quick, and he’s good,” D’Antoni stated.

Beyond the rebounds and blocks themselves, Capela sets the tone on defense, which has been critical to Houston’s success so far.

“You know, and even if the three ball isn’t working, our defense was phenomenal,” Harden stated. “I mean, offensively, like I’ve said before, the three balls are just a bonus. You know, that’s extra. But the way we get it done is our defense. And we’ve been doing that.”

D’Antoni went further, stating that Capela’s defense and rim protection is very much in the mind of the team’s other players.

“With Clint back in the back, he just does a great job of giving guys confidence that he’s going to raise some stuff at the rim,” D’Antoni stated.

The Rockets have an opportunity to close out the Jazz at home in Houston in Game 5. If they do that, they will have time to fully shift their focus and attention to the Warriors. Based on his current play, expect Capela to be a major contributor in that potential series. Whether he can maintain this level of play or surpass could be the determining factor in whether or not the Rockets can overcome the reigning champs.

James Blancarte is a writer for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney based in Los Angeles, California.

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