ATLANTA – If Trae Young is the undisputed star of the Atlanta Hawks, Clint Capella is the backbone.
A very good trash talker too.
Broadly speaking, the 6-foot-10 Swiss center has given the Hawks the gritty defensive presence they desperately need.
Without Capella, it’s hard to imagine Atlanta preparing for their first appearance in the Eastern Conference semifinals since 2016.
“He is the anchor for us,” said interim coach Nate McMillan. “Defensively, he’s been the guy throughout the season who cleans up our breaks and mistakes on the periphery.”
Capella was acquired by the Hawks at the trade deadline last year – part of a 12-player deal that indicated Atlanta was ready to take the next step in a massive rebuild that produced three straight disappointing seasons.
For the first time in the overhaul, the Hawks weren’t just taking a sizable salary for future cap space. He had big plans for Capella, even though a foot injury prevented him from suing for his new team in the 2020 season before the pandemic kicked off.
Capella played all but nine games this season, giving the Hawks one of the best stoppers in the league (even though he was inexplicably excluded from the final for the Defensive Player of the Year award).
Capella led the NBA in rebounding (14.3 per game)—the first Atlanta player to achieve the feat since Dikem Mutombo in 1999–2000—and also averaged 2.0 blocks. He was a double-double machine, scoring doubles in points and rebounds in 48 of 63 games.
In a team full of 3-point shooters, Capella is the guy who manages to do the dirty work from the inside.
“I’m just doing my job: spotting mistakes on the rim, setting up the pick and roll, hitting hard on the rim, being assertive on the defensive end,” Capella said. “I want to tell everyone I’m the backbone of the rim, then do it over and over again. It’s that simple.”
Capella played a big role in Atlanta’s five-game win over the New York Knicks favorites in the opening round of the playoffs.
Standing for one of the league’s most physical teams, he helped close All-Star Julius Randall and went toe-to-toe with Taj Gibson and Nerlens Noel in the lane.
In the series-ending Game 5 victory at Madison Square Garden, Young was about to take the bow, but Capella deserved a curtain call of his own. He finished with 15 rebounds – more than Gibson and Noel combined.
“He was really physical in the paint,” McMillan said. “He held his ground against Noel and Gibson. That was the difference in the game. We needed to win the hustle game.”
The Hawks also won the trash-talking game.
Before the final game, Capella apparently predicted that Atlanta would send the Knicks on vacation. He also accused New York of a bullying strategy that did not work, culminating in Randall’s major foul in the closing minutes of the Hawks blowout win in Game 4.
“They were trying to play hard, push our guys around, talk trash,” Capella said. “But we can do that too. We showed them … that we can push people around too. We can talk (trash) as well. What are you going to do about it? We’ll do it.” Can and can win too.”
Macmillan wasn’t too thrilled with Capella’s blunt chatter, but his teammates liked it.
John Collins said, “It was some big deal on their end, to go out and in a sense put their time on the line.” “But we had his back. We knew he would come out and give it 100%. We really didn’t have a problem with it. We were able to do what he said. Send him on vacation. Send him home.” “
Now, it is in the second round against the top seeded 76ers. Game 1 is in Philadelphia on Sunday.
Hawks are downtrodden again.
Capella isn’t the least bit concerned.
“We just want to see where we can go,” he said. “Every game with this team is really exciting. We have a great mindset. We are working hard on the defence. We are making sure we are doing things the right way.
“With that mindset and the potential we have, the sky is the limit for us.”
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