The Big Man is Back: Clint Capela and the Houston Rockets

In game four of the Western Conference Semi-final, Rockets center Clint Capela had five blocks in the last three minutes of the game.

Five blocks! This means Capela owned the paint. He moved in, built a house, and told the Utah Jazz to stay off his lawn. “I got fired up…I decided that they [Utah] weren’t scoring anymore. Not in my paint. So…this is what happened.” That kind of work at the rim is unprecedented and Capela is the only player to do so in the past 20 seasons.

Fans of the NBA have watched the game slowly change into a perimeter shooting frenzy, which is a highly respectable art unto itself, but what Capela is demonstrating is that there is still beauty inside the paint. His rim protection was a huge reason why the Jazz’s field goal attempts were held to 38.6 percent.

Capela has exceeded the expectations that the Rockets put on him and it is even more impressive that he hasn’t reached his ceiling of potential yet as he continues to develop. It helps that he is being mentored by basketball legend and Hall of Famer Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon.

Of their workouts, Capela said, “He tells me what to do and I do it.”

He continued, saying, “He comes to me every day at practice, saying, ‘You should try this, try that.’ He really believes I can do this. When a guy like that comes to practice every day and is constantly telling you how good you can be, you start believing it.”

He paid homage to another great, Dikembe Mutombo, mimicking his signature finger wag after blocking Donovan Mitchell’s shot attempt.

When the Rockets are mentioned, the players talked about are usually James Harden and Chris Paul, and rightfully so. If anything, this post-season has proven that a key factor in the team’s success has been Capela. The thing is, as much as Harden and Paul are masters of creating their own shot, they know from whence cometh their help. Paul has attributed his midrange opportunities to Capela’s domination in the paint.

Paul said of Capela’s presence, “It’s so many things that happen throughout the game that don’t show up on the stat sheet. It shows how selfless he is.”

Harden, who also champions his teammate’s progression, rushed him after the game with encouragement. Of what was said, Harden explained with a grin, “I can’t exactly tell you what I said to him. He’s put himself in this position to go out there and play at a high level and do the things that we ask him to do every single night. I mean, he has our back, and it feels good to have somebody have our back like he does. He doesn’t get a lot of credit for it.”

Capela has certainly made his presence known.

“This is what you’re going to do for us,” D’Antoni told Capela upon joining the Rockets organization. “Protect the rim, run the floor, set a pick, roll to the basket—oh, it didn’t work—go back, set another pick and do it over again. I’m going to yell at you, but if we win a championship, you’ll be the reason, and if we lose, it’s not your fault. We’ll still probably give you $80 million.” This offseason Capela will be a restricted free agent.

The expectations of him were set and now Capela just continues to exceed them at every turn. D’Antoni said of Capela’s contributions, “I think he pole vaulted over the hurdle. He cleared it by a lot. And the guy was incredible the whole time.”