The Houston Rockets have moved on to the Western Conference semi-finals after a gentleman’s sweep of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Now it’s time to acknowledge the Rockets’ unsung heroes whose contributions are a key factor in the team’s success.
In the closeout game against the Timberwolves, Rockets center, Clint Capela, blocked a layup that Karl-Anthony Towns intended to have fall into the net. He then sprinted back to the other side of the court, faster than everyone else and demonstrated what a successful layup looks like.
“I try to always have that pace,” said Capela, who has worked to build his endurance so he can play at maximum effort for 33 minutes, as he did during Game 5. “I feel like I have an impact on the offense whenever I sprint, whenever I put pace on our offense. By doing that, I feel like I really help my team. I really try to stay focused on that and keep that energy up.”
Capela is making things happen on both ends of the court. Capela has steadily improved over the course of his time in Houston and appears to be excelling at his role, rebounding, protecting the rim, finishing, screening, and running the floor.
“He just continues to get better, continues to listen and works his butt off,” said Rockets star James Harden and teammate of Capela. “This series, it showed. Playing against guys we call All-Stars or whatever you want, he doesn’t really care about the name. He just goes out there and does his job every single night. That’s why we’re in the position that we are.”
Folks are quick to point to James Harden and Chris Paul’s performance as a determining factor in the team’s success but in truth, Clint Capela is to the Rockets what Draymond Green is to the Warriors. Though they play different roles, their roles are key. When Capela has a great game, the Rockets have a great game.
The very first game of the postseason, Capela had a 24-point, 12-point and 3-block performance. In the final game of the series, Capela had a game high of 26 points, 15 rebounds, 1 block and an assist during 33 minutes of play.
“We just expect it from him,” Paul said of Capela’s performances. “He runs the court, he plays hard, he sets hard screens. A lot of times people talk about the shots and passes and stuff we make, but he opens up everything for us because he’s a threat when he rolls to the rim.”
The Rockets shot out to a sizable lead over the Utah Jazz on Sunday and later coasted to a 110-96 win for Game 1 of the series. James Harden, of course, was fully in his MVP bag, delivering a 41-point performance. He was un-guardable.
“Just because he’s that good,” D’Antoni said. “I don’t think I’m telling you anything you haven’t seen with your own eyes. Just what he does with his step-backs — he’s 7-for-12 on 3s — I don’t know how you guard that. I don’t know how you guard him going to the rim with his strength [and] passing ability. He’s got so many ways to beat you, and then the fouls [he draws] if you try to take some of them away. He’s one of the best.”
“The defense is really good,” D’Antoni continued in reference to the Jazz. “Their defense is super, but James is James.”
The Rockets, who are just now getting into a groove of domination, also have the defensive stylings and clutch offensive bursts from PJ Tucker to thank for their team’s success. Coach Mike D’Antoni has described Tucker as “one of the best defenders I’ve ever seen.” Tucker has proven himself to be a great defensive player but what is becoming more apparent is his offensive versatility as he demonstrated with his matchups with Derrick Favors and Jonas Jerebko driving to the basket.
It’s exciting to see that more cylinders have gotten fired up on the Rockets squad. Harden, Capela, and Paul are ready while Tucker and Ariza are heating up. Eric Gordon, who has proven to be invaluable to the team’s offensive makeup is still trying to find his groove. Everyone knows the real competition is in the west and Western Conference Finals…is the actual finals. Hopefully, the Rockets will have all cylinders fired up and ready to go by then.