Capela, Hawks still seeking a way to slow 76ers’ Embiid

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, left, tries to get past Atlanta Hawks' Clint Capela during the first half of Game 2 in a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Tuesday, June 8, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, left, tries to get past Atlanta Hawks' Clint Capela during the first half of Game 2 in a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Tuesday, June 8, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Credit: Matt Slocum

Credit: Matt Slocum

Clint Capela is a famed defender, the anchor to everything the Hawks hope to do on that end of the floor. Yet the take-away from Tuesday’s second playoff meeting with Philadelphia was that Capela trying to defend the 76ers’ Joel Embiid is like the rodeo cowboy trying to stop the bull.

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There were times during the 118-102 loss to the 76ers in Philly – which evened this Eastern Conference semifinals series at 1-1 – that all Capela could do was hang on. And hope Embiid would miss. Hope being a poor strategy, Embiid backed up his 39-point Game 1 performance with 40 points and 13 rebounds Tuesday.

There is one great imperative for the Hawks as they head back home for Friday’s Game 3.

“Containing Joel a little bit better is something we got to focus on,” Hawks guard Trae Young said.

“There are some things we can do better because tonight he basically went down to his spot and got deep post position,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said in Tuesday’s aftermath. “We got to do a better job fighting early to deny his catch as well as allowing him to get deep post position. We’ll make some adjustments to how we’re defending him. Tonight, we were pretty much just allowing him to walk down to the post and set up.”

It was another big man, Denver’s Nikola Jokic, who claimed the NBA’s MVP award Tuesday. But it was Embiid, dealing with a sore knee, who broke out the full MVP repertoire this night.

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Start with a first-quarter up-fake, drive and finish with the left hand. Throw in a fast-break finish, some fadeaways both in the paint and along the baseline. He made a pair of 3′s on five attempts. And when determined to get into post-up position near the basket, he didn’t ask permission. He just took it.

He even stole the very air from Capela’s highlight of the night, a soaring finish on an alley oop in the second quarter that got the Hawks to within two of Philly. For it was but 13 seconds later Embiid bullied his way to the basket for an answering layup.

“He’s a tough challenge for everybody, he’s one of the best players in the league,” said the Hawks Danilo Gallinari, the one fellow who got under Embiid’s skin enough to draw an offensive foul on him, then provoke him into a technical foul late in the second quarter.

“He’s probably with Jokic one of the most skilled big men in the league,” Gallinari continued. “He’s a very tough challenge. We need to play more physical with him and need to play a better team defense. He’s tough to play one-on-one with. To leave our bigs in one-on-one situations.”

Yes, even a defender of Capela’s stature will require help, he said. “Everybody in the league needs help against Embiid,” Gallinari said. “There are few bigs that are especially big like him. Clint is a great defender, but, I don’t know what his weight is, but he’s definitely not like Embiid. We need to help Clint a little more.”

Atlanta Hawks forward Danilo Gallinari and Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid collide and are both called for technical fouls.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
Atlanta Hawks forward Danilo Gallinari and Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid collide and are both called for technical fouls. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

On your official roster, Embiid is listed at 7-foot, 285 pounds. That’s two inches and 40 pounds more than Capela, although there are occasions the mass advantage seems more lopsided.

Physics be damned, McMillan was not pleased with the Hawks’ resistance to the Philly big fella.

“He’s getting too deep, our double-teams are not getting there quick enough. He’s pretty much taking advantage of the deep post up, getting to the free-throw line and scoring,” McMillan said. “We got to clean that up. He pretty much has had his way in the first two games down on the block.”

Capela came out of the evening with a modest stat line – 10 points, eight rebounds – but holding onto his good attitude.

“The fact that he’s bigger and you can’t really push him because it’s a foul. He has the advantage,” he said about the getting-pushed-around thing.

But then added, “I’m enjoying it. It’s a challenge. It’s 1-1 now and at home, we have to take care of it.”

Enjoying it? Enjoy playing the tree root to Embiid’s bulldozer?

“Because he’s one of the best at it,” Capela said. “There are not a lot of guys like him. Whenever you get an opportunity against him, you got to do the best you can.”

Plenty of additional enjoyable opportunities await. For the big man whose availability for this series was such a big question just played nearly 35 very high-quality minutes and didn’t look the least bit bothered by it.

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