Ex-rocket Clint Capela is the backbone of the Hawks


ATLANTA (AP) – If Trae Young is the undisputed star of the Atlanta Hawks, then Clint Capela is the backbone.

A good talker, too.

The solid 6-10-inch Swiss center gave the Hawks the solid defensive presence they desperately needed.

Without Capela, it’s hard to imagine Atlanta preparing for its first Eastern Conference semifinal appearance since 2016.

“He’s the anchor for us,” said interim coach Nate McMillan. “Defensively he’s been the guy all season fixing our breakdowns and mistakes on the perimeter. “

Capela was acquired by the Houston Hawks last year on the trade deadline – as part of a 12-player deal that signaled Atlanta ready to take the next step in a massive rebuild that produced three consecutive dark seasons.

For the first time in the redesign, the Hawks weren’t taking a big paycheck just for future ceiling space. They had big plans for Capela, even though a foot injury kept him from adjusting to his new team before the pandemic ended the 2020 season.

Capela has appeared in all but nine games this season, making the Hawks one of the league’s top stopers (even though he was inexplicably ruled out of the finalists for Defensive Player of the Year).

Capela led the NBA in the rebound (14.3 per game) – the first Atlanta player to accomplish this feat since Dikeme Mutombo in 1999-2000 – and also averaged 2.0 blocks. He was a double-double machine, registering double-digit points and rebounds in 48 of 63 games.

In a team loaded with 3-point shooters, Capela is the guy who thrives on doing the dirty work on the inside.

“I’m just doing my job: clearing mistakes at the edge, adjusting the pick and rolls, finishing strong on the edge, being vocal on the defensive,” Capela said. “I want everyone to know that I am the backbone of the rim and then do it over and over again. It’s that simple.”

Capela played a huge role in Atlanta’s five-game win over favorites New York Knicks in the first round of the playoffs.

Standing up to one of the more physical teams in the league, he helped take down All-Star Julius Randle and found himself up against Taj Gibson and Nerlens Noel in the lane.

In the Game 5 victory that ended the series at Madison Square Garden, Young was the one to bow out, but Capela deserved a reminder to him. He finished with 15 rebounds – more than Gibson and Noel combined.

“He was really physical in the painting,” McMillan said. “He held on against Noel and Gibson. That was the difference in the game. We had to win the hustle and bustle game.

The Hawks also won the garbage game.

Ahead of the final game, Capela bluntly predicted that Atlanta would send the Knicks on vacation. He also accused New York of bullying tactics that didn’t work, culminating in Randle’s blatant foul in the dying minutes of a resounding Hawks victory in Game 4.

“They were trying to play hard, to push our guys, to talk,” Capela said. “But we can do that too. We showed them… that we can push guys too. We can talk (trash) too. What are you going to do about it? We can do it and get the win, too. “

McMillan wasn’t too thrilled with Capela’s direct chatter, but his teammates loved it.

“It was a big talk on his part, to come out and put your time on the line in a way,” said forward John Collins. “But we backed him up. We knew he would speak out and give 100%. We really had no problem with that. We were able to do as he said. Send them on vacation. . Send them home. “

Now it’s time for the second round against the seeded 76ers. Game 1 is Sunday in Philadelphia.

The Hawks are the underdogs again.

Capela doesn’t seem the least bit concerned.

“We just want to see where we can go,” he said. “Every game is really exciting with this team. We have a great mentality. We play hard in defense. We make sure to do the job the right way.

“With this mentality and the potential that we have, the sky is the limit for us.”

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