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Warriors are just a bad matchup for Clint Capela

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After a promising regular season against Golden State, Clint Capela’s struggles from last year’s playoffs have resurfaced.

NBA: Playoffs-Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off of a regular season where in the Houston Rockets’ four matchups against the Golden State Warriors, Clint Capela averaged 15 points and 15 rebounds on 60 percent true shooting, things were looking up for Houston in this year’s Western Semifinals matchup.

Outside of one troubling matchup against DeMarcus Cousins, Capela was outstanding versus the Dubs all year. The Rockets were almost 9 points better with Capela on the court, finishing the year 3-1 against their fiercest rival.

Unfortunately, as has become the norm with Warriors’ opponents in recent years, regular season successes were not predictive of playoff fortunes. Although Capela’s counting stats of 9 points and 8 rebounds per game through the first Oakland swing aren’t entirely atrocious, they don’t tell the whole story.

Through two games, in the 60 minutes that Capela has been on court, the Rockets have posted a net rating of -31.3. In contrast, in the 36 minutes Capela has sat, the Rockets have posted a net rating of +29.5.

Certainly, the Warriors’ offensive system has reduced the impact of Capela’s defense and rebounding by dragging him away from the rim on switches.

However, the main reason for the aforementioned discrepancy in net rating is that the Warriors’ personnel is perfectly suited for mitigating Capela’s offensive impact. Through two games, Capela’s usage sits at a meager 11 percent, well below his season average and even significantly below what he produced in a smaller role in last year’s Western Conference Finals.

The catalyst for Capela’s descent into the periphery is, of course, Draymond Green. So far, in the 47 minutes that Capela and Green have shared the court, the Warriors have blitzed the Rockets by 43 points. In contrast, in the 13 minutes Capela’s played with Green sitting, the Rockets have outscored the Warriors by 7.

In particular, Green is limiting Capela with his elite ability to ostensibly guard two players at once in 2-on-1 situations.

For example, look at the (admittedly, blurry) example below:

With Austin Rivers driving at Green here, you’d think this play would result in either a) a Rivers lay-in or b) an easy Capela lob. However, Green’s elite instincts allow him to position himself such that Rivers can’t tell which is the better option. This causes him to hesitate for just a second and lose the advantage he’d created initially.

Ultimately, Rivers throws a dump-off to Capela due to Green’s presence, but Green’s initial positioning puts him in perfect position to contest Capela. (Capela missed the lay-in.)

On the contrary, when someone other than Green is responsible for this help-side responsibility, things become much easier for Capela. Take the example below:

In this one, Kevin Durant comes out much farther from the basket, with his hands by his side. This creates a much easier opportunity for the lob to Capela because Andre Iguodala has to choose between taking away the Capela lob or the P.J. Tucker corner three.

Put Green in Durant’s place, and his superior positioning would deter James Harden while also covering the lob to Capela enough to allow Igoudala to commit to Tucker. This leaves Harden caught in “no-mans land” where he his only options are to throw up a contested floater or kick it out to a non-corner shooter— the two best case scenarios for the Warriors in this action.

As a dependent offensive weapon, taking away lobs and dump-offs essentially limits Capela’s game to rolling to the basket and rim running in transition— both of which reduce in frequency in the playoffs.

Capela’s struggles against Green this series continue a larger trend going back to the Western Conference Finals last season. While not as drastic as this year’s discrepancy, in last year’s series, the Rockets were outscored by 52 in the 184 minutes Capela and Green shared the court. Whereas, they outscored the Warriors by 3 in the 15 minutes Capela played without Green.

As we reach a nine-game sample size in the past year of Capela against the playoff Warriors, it’s become evident that this matchup just isn’t viable. Against the death-lineup (Hamptons Five, if you prefer), Capela is a -19 so far in this series. In last season’s matchup, Capela posted the worst net rating on the team against the Warriors at -11.4. And... that number somehow dropped even more to a dreadful -17.8 in minutes against Golden State’s core four of Green, Durant, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson.

Now, I’m not saying the Rockets shouldn’t play Capela against the Warriors at all— he’s been good when Green sits. They just need to reduce his minutes and experiment with other lineups more.

Fortunately for Rockets’ fans, in the press conference following game 2, Mike D’Antoni acknowledged Green’s effect on the “lob-game” and offered up that “there are some things we can do [to counter Green].”

The main “thing” that comes to mind is lineups with Tucker at the five— aka “Tuckwagon” lineups. Although it’s a small sample, in the 13 minutes that Tucker has played center so far this series, the Rockets have outscored the Warriors by 13.

Sure, having to substitute last year’s Trevor Ariza at the four for one of Rivers, Gerald Green, or Danuel House in these lineups creates a different set of issues for defense and rebounding compared to last season. But the Tuckwagon lineup showed last playoffs it can cause issues for the Warriors. The Capela-led lineups haven’t at any point in the playoffs (regular season performance notwithstanding).

All is certainly not lost after two games, but one thing has become abundantly clear: the Warriors are just a bad matchup for Clint Capela. Let’s see how the Rockets adjust.