With three minutes left in last night’s win against the Jazz, Clint Capela had just a single block. When the clock hit triple zeroes, that number turned to six.
Though the last three minutes weren’t exactly significant in the outcome of last night’s contest, it was a snapshot of what the Rockets are looking for and the identity the team is trying to create moving forward. Capela’s rim protection and rampage brought a grunginess and attitude to the Rockets that is desperately needed.
A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend and we were talking about how the Rockets have been playing well as a “Big Three” with Chris Paul, James Harden, and Capela. He told me that Capela was impressive, but he also said:
“Imagine what the team would look like if it was [Rudy] Gobert instead of Capela. They would win 70 games.”
And, I saw his perspective. For people who don’t watch the Rockets on a religious basis, it is hard to see a “Big Three,” but games like last night prove that this team has a trio of stars. And Gobert is the pinnacle when it comes to defense in this league at the center position. Gobert was the All-NBA Second Team center this season, and was on the First-Team All-Defense last year.
When he came into the league, Capela was looked over as this lanky teenager. Now, he is someone who yields extreme intimidation and teams will be forced to game plan around him now.
In the regular season, this idea of a Rockets Big 3 was alluded to when the Rockets were an unprecedented 42-3 when all three Big 3 members played. However, there is a different level of respect that is given when a team has playoff success. Regular season success is one thing, but playoff success is what really matters.
Now, this team has shown that it can succeed in the playoffs. Capela can be a force in the playoffs. And this team is a real threat in the playoffs. Capela is a huge part of the reason behind that.
The defense the Rockets displayed in Game 4 was some of the best the Rockets have played this season. Since Game 2, when the Rockets allowed the Jazz to shoot 46 percent from deep and 51 percent overall, there has been a total shift on the defensive end from the Rockets.
The defenders are forcing the Jazz wings off the three-point line and into the paint, where Capela is protecting the rim and altering shots left and right. Capela could have ended last night with 10 blocks if the shots would have just hit his hand, but his presence forced the Jazz to contort their shots into a bad direction or into a turnover. Either way, Utah was not scoring.
But it is more than just the physical attributes from Capela, it is the mentality as well. Despite being the youngest player in the rotation, his teammates are looking up to him and counting on him to set the tone down low for the team. On offense, he is the recipient of beautiful alley-oops from the guards, but defense is where he gets to initiate and be in charge of his team’s destiny, and he is really coming into his own. Moving forward, this is going to be paramount towards the team’s success and if the team can count on him to be a pillar of the team’s strength on his own, the Rockets might be the scariest team in the league.
But the most terrifying part about Capela is that he will celebrate his 24th birthday later this month and the surface has barely been scratched with him.