Photo by Troy Taormina/USA Today

Breakdown: Clint Capela Is Becoming A Monster

How the Rockets center dominated Karl-Anthony Towns in game one

April 17, 2018 - 11:01 am

By: Adam Spolane (@AdamSpolane)

The day after the Rockets playoff flameout against the San Antonio Spurs last May, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey was asked if he had someone on his roster who could one day join James Harden in the NBA All Star Game. He thought he did, and the player he pointed to was Clint Capela.

“I’m not trying to say he’s gonna be a for sure an all star, that’s too much pressure to put on him at age 22 or whatever he is, but he’s got a chance. You look at his progression and where he’s at, he’s got a chance to be for sure near all star, if not better.”

In the final year of his rookie contract, Capela started 74 games this season and averaged career-highs in every significant category except assists. Still, he did not make the all star team, but in game one of the Rockets first round series against the Timberwolves Sunday night at Toyota Center he gave credence to his general manager’s prediction 11 months earlier as he continues to set himself up for a nice payday this summer.

Capela dominated his matchup with Wolves all star center Karl-Anthony Towns, and that domination started before Towns even touched the basketball.

On their first possession of the game, the Wolves wanted to post-up Towns, and while he got the ball, Capela completely blew up the play:

First he fights through a screen, and with some help from P.J. Tucker, he pushes Towns well outside the paint. Towns tries to drive baseline, but Capela gives him nothing, coming away with a steal, immediately setting the tone for how this matchup would go, and it didn't take long for him to get the better of Towns again:

This is the type of stuff that makes the Rockets defense so good. The play starts with Capela on Jimmy Butler and Tucker on Towns, but Capela funnels Butler towards Tucker and the Rockets defenders are able to flawlessly switch back to more favorable matchups, and Capela blocks a hook Towns hook shot, which caught Chris Paul's eye.

"You see him defending (Towns), who is a tough cover in the post. I’m low and I’m on the weak side and I’m watching him go up for the hook and I’m watching Clint block it, and then he’s running. He was unbelievable tonight."

Capela's impact wasn't just felt by Towns. Early in the first quarter the Wolves cleared out after Capela got switched onto Andrew Wiggins, allowing the first pick of the 2014 draft to iso against the 25th pick of that same draft:

With the shot clock running out, Wiggins bails before he can even get below the free throw line.

Capela is playing in his fourth NBA postseason, and the one thing you learn with playoff experience is how how important every detail actually is. This next play from the second quarter might not seem like much, but it is:

Remember, the Rockets won this game by three points, and Towns shot over 40 percent from behind the 3-point line this season. With a clean catch, he gets that shot off, and while there's no guarantee he makes it up against the shot clock, he could've.

Despite having success defending outside the paint, Capela is going to be valued more for his ability to defend the rim. Here he is coming over from the weak side to challenge a Wiggins drive:

The Wolves made just 4-of-14 field goals that Capela defended in game one, and the Rockets were +12 in his 17 first half minutes, highlighted by this:

"Clint was all over the place," Paul said. "Both ends of the court, offensively and defensively. His energy, it was contagious."

In taking a 7-point lead into halftime, the Rockets made just 4-of-19 three-point attempts, but with the help of Capela, shot 16-of-26 on shots inside the arc thanks to Capela's 8-of-11 mark. He finished pick and rolls at the rim:

He helped out his teammates after they missed shots:

He even created offense all on his own:

Capela finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds in a first half Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni called "exceptional", adding, "You can’t just stay at the level he was in the first half cause then we wouldn’t be talking about James Harden, we’d be talking about Clint all the time. He played really, really well."

He even impressed the NBA's likely MVP.

"I've been here since Clint got here, "Harden said. "He's developed, he listens, he works his butt off every single day, and it shows for big moments like that."

While effusive in his praise, he made one small caveat.

"He has a long way to go, but hell of a job for game one."