The Hawks’ Clint Capela looking like his old self again

Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela (15) defends agianst Oklahoma City Thunder guard Josh Giddey (3) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr.)
Caption
Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela (15) defends agianst Oklahoma City Thunder guard Josh Giddey (3) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr.)

Credit: Hakim Wright Sr.

Credit: Hakim Wright Sr.

Clint Capela always tries to start games hard, with a loud finish at the rim or something to that effect, to try to get the Hawks going.

That was made much harder by a nagging left Achilles injury, something that prevented him from getting much work done in the preseason and put him behind to start the season. In addition to the pain, he wasn’t in full-on game shape.

Known for physical dunks, you started to see an out-of-rhythm Capela miss some easy layups.

“It was hard for me the first few games because I didn’t get a lot of practice or reps,” Capela said. “To me, I’m a guy who needs stamina to really perform. It’s hard because this is my game, so I knew it was going to take a couple games before I feel like myself again, but finally I’ve started feeling that I’m back.”

The past few games, though, Capela has started to settle in and get his wind back, a vital component to his game and to the Hawks overall, who swept their five-game homestand and are back at .500 (9-9). It’s also a product of him learning how to manage the pain he’s dealing with in his Achilles, in which he received a PRP injection in August.

“The fact that I’ve played enough games now to finally get my wind back, sprint more, strengthen a little bit, that obviously helped me. … (We) started getting wins, too, so I really feel like if I have that impact in my speed and my running, it’s really going to help our team,” Capela said, adding of his heel: “At this point, it’s there, but I learn how to, I find a way to learn how to play with it and get through it, so I’ll be fine.”

The night before a game, Capela does strengthening and stretching exercises and in the mornings will receive treatment and apply heat to his heel, and before games he’ll try to keep it warm.

Despite having to manage his Achilles pain, Capela led the NBA in field-goal percentage (81.5%) and offensive rebounds (five) and was second in rebounds per game (14.3), finishing as a nominee for Eastern Conference player of the week for Nov. 15-Nov. 21. He looked like the Capela who dominated for the Hawks last season, helping them to the Eastern Conference finals by defending the paint, leading the league in rebounds (14.3) and finishing around the rim (15.2 points). He’s at 11.3 points and 11.9 rebounds per game to start this season.

The defense is struggling to start the season, with Capela not being 100% a component of that. Last season, Capela transformed the Hawks’ defense, anchoring it and cleaning things up on that end of the floor, so he’s certainly not happy with the rough start.

“That’s what I take pride in,” Capela said. “We’re not there yet, that’s why every day we’re trying to come in here and work on it. Our technique, our rotations. I know it’s a process, so even though it’s frustrating, we still have to be patient. And just keep working on it every day.”

There’s more factors, of course, including the Hawks needing more rebounding from their guards and wings, when a 3-pointer glances off and bounces far outside the paint. But having Capela back in shape and performing the way he has the past few games also is big, Hawks coach Nate McMillan said.

“Absolutely, he’s the anchor to our defense,” McMillan said. “He’s the guy that really becomes the last line of defense for us, as far as defending the basket as well as rebounding the basketball. It’s really hard to take him off the floor because he does so much for us. And we’re going to need for him to continue to get better.”

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