‘He’s beasting down there:’ Clint Capela hitting his stride with Hawks

After Clint Capela pulled down a career-high 26 rebounds in the Hawks’ overtime win against the Pistons on Wednesday night, Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce pulled Capela aside and delivered a message.

“... That I can be an All-Star, playing like that,” Capela said of some of the encouragement Pierce offered him.

Pierce told Capela he played a huge role in the team’s comeback victory and to keep dominating. Capela took it to heart, but after playing nearly 39 minutes, he didn’t take much time to celebrate, instead sticking with the routine he and John Collins have fallen into: briefly hitting the weight room together after games.

In addition to Capela’s career-high in rebounds, he also posted a season-high 27 points and five blocks in the win, and made several crucial plays down the stretch that helped the Hawks climb out of a 17-point deficit and force overtime.

ExploreMichael Cunningham: Hawks playing tougher defense

For a team that lacked a starting-caliber center all last season, one who could defend, rebound at a high level and finish around the rim, Capela already is making a big difference for the Hawks.

“Trying to be a presence,” Capela said. “Every time I see the ball go up, I put myself in a position to get the rebound. Every time I see the opposite team get into my paint, I try to protect my rim, and over and over. Just trying to do it over and over, that’s what I do. That’s why I said, whenever I first came in, that this is what I do, so I just did it multiple times tonight. And I plan on keeping (on having) that kind of presence, rebounds and blocked shots.”

Mathematically, he’s correct, though that may be underselling the gravity of becoming the first NBA player since the Lakers’ Shaquille O’Neal to record at least 25 points, 25 rebounds and five blocks in a game (March 21, 2004, vs. the Bucks), and just the ninth player in NBA history to ever do so. He also became the first Hawks player to record at least 25 points and 25 rebounds in a game since Dikembe Mutombo on Dec. 14, 1999 vs. the Timberwolves (27 points and 29 rebounds), and the first Hawks player to tally 15 rebounds in a single half since Dwight Howard did so Oct. 27, 2016 vs. the Wizards.

But, big performances are becoming a trend for Capela, who fits in well with the Hawks’ offense, provides a defensive voice and anchor on the back line and now certainly looks 100% healthy.

Hawks center Clint Capela shoots between Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony (left) and guard CJ McCollum (right) during the first half Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Portland, Ore. (Craig Mitchelldyer/AP)
Hawks center Clint Capela shoots between Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony (left) and guard CJ McCollum (right) during the first half Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Portland, Ore. (Craig Mitchelldyer/AP)

Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer

Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer

Capela has posted five double-doubles in a row and over the past four games is averaging 22.8 points on 66% shooting (39-59), 16.8 rebounds and three blocks. He has tallied at least 10 rebounds in 11 consecutive games, and ranks first in the league in offensive rebounding (4.3) and second in rebounds per game (14.2), trailing only Cleveland’s Andre Drummond. Overall, he’s averaging 14.3 points and 14.2 rebounds per game.

And, he looks like he’s operating at full speed, after not playing in an NBA game since Jan. 29, when he was still with the Rockets. To start the season, after dealing with a nagging heel injury for nearly a year, Capela looked a few steps slow and wasn’t getting up and down the court nearly as well as he has the past several games.

“It took him a while to get his legs going, it took him a while for me to play him extended minutes, and now we’re playing him 30-plus, 40 almost tonight, just because he’s getting in game shape,” Pierce said. “He’s in better game shape and you’re seeing more production from him.”

Before the season, Pierce spoke with Capela about what he envisioned for Capela’s role. Before joining the Hawks, Capela was in Houston as the team moved more toward small ball.

“I said, ‘I just need Clint Capela to be Clint Capela,’” Pierce said. “‘We didn’t bring you here to reinvent you, put you behind the 3-point line or do anything different. Play behind the defense, rim-run in transition, set screens and roll, create some separation, and crash the glass.’”

Basically, allow Capela to do what he does best. The Hawks need Capela to be the same or better version of what he’s always been, Pierce said, with the addition of Capela obviously adding instantly another pick-and-roll partner for Trae Young. Capela also is starting to make free throws (though not a strong free-throw shooter, the past eight games, Capela has gone 23-for-34 from the line, or 68%).

“Every game, he seems to be getting better,” Pierce said. “His confidence is building. He’s getting to the free-throw line at a high rate, and now he’s starting to knock them down, as well. But you can see his confidence sky-rocketing, and it’s good for us, it’s good for the guys. It’s a big confidence builder, and it’ll allow us to pressure and do something creatively up the floor, defensively, knowing that we have a guy like that down the floor, protecting the rim.”

Capela performing at a high level raises the Hawks’ potential, said Collins, who also added 31 points and 11 rebounds in the win vs. Detroit.

“He’s beasting down there right now, no other way to put it,” Collins said. “We’re extremely hard to beat with him playing like that. Obviously we haven’t had a real center like that, anchoring down the paint, but I feel like Clint’s finding his feet with us. … With him playing defense like that, and grabbing rebounds like that, we’re going to be tough to handle.”

In Other News