Bless you, Clint Capela.
Is it too late to cast an All-Star vote for the Houston Rockets center? If he were here right now, I’d put one arm around his shoulder and give him an affectionate noogie with the other (even if I had to stack several milk crates to make it happen).
With a few indiscreet words, Capela managed to create a rivalry between the Warriors and a team that is neither the Clippers nor the Cavaliers, and to inject some juice into an NBA season that seemed destined to be just another victory lap for Golden State.
It started with the Rockets’ 116-108 win against the Warriors on Saturday. After the game, Capela had the cheek to rank his team ahead of the defending champions. Yes, he went there.
This is what Capela said: “We’re confident because we know if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to beat them. We’ve got to keep playing. We know that they’re going to come back if we have the lead, and we’ve just got to keep that mindset. Sometimes I feel like, in the past, we were all dragging down after mistakes. But today, we were ready. I think that if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do on defense — all the switches, the weak-side (help) — and keep playing our offense by keeping that mentality all game long, we have the weapons to beat them. We are better than them.”
And this is what we heard: “We’re confident because we know if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to beat them. BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH. We are better than them.”
Better than the Warriors? The team that was the NBA gold standard BEFORE it signed Kevin Durant? The team that seems to break a scoring mark or establish a league-record streak twice a week? Who is Clint Capela again?
NBA players aren’t afraid of the Warriors, exactly. These are proud professionals, each dependent on his belief that he’s the greatest athlete in the universe. But the opposition has come to treat Steve Kerr’s team with a bit of deference. Four of the best squads in basketball got a crack at these guys in the 2017 playoffs, and combined to win one of 16 games.
And yet Capela went ahead and lit the fuse. He’s only 23 years old, and a native of Switzerland. Maybe something got lost in translation or plummeted into the generation gap.
Or maybe Capela is truly convinced that the Rockets are the best team in the NBA. Let’s be honest, they’re closer than most of us had guessed. Newcomer Chris Paul has blended nicely with MVP candidate James Harden, and Houston is much deeper than it’s been in recent years. After beating the Warriors, the Rockets were 32-12, just 3½ games behind Kerr’s pacesetters.
And the Rockets were impressive Saturday. They were a little shorthanded that night, with Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green serving suspensions, but pounded the Warriors on the glass and pulled away late for the win.
Most NBA analysts have come to believe Houston and Golden State will meet in the Western Conference final, and that the series will be competitive. And now, thanks to Capela, it will be even more compelling.