The battle for rebounds usually is a key factor in any playoff series, and the Hawks boast the No. 1 glass-cleaner in the league this season.
The Knicks’ frontcourt figures to have its hands full in the opening round of the playoffs with Atlanta center Clint Capela, who paced the NBA with a career-best 14.3 rebounds per game this season, including an active 4.7 offensive boards.
“You have to just keep him off the glass. That’s where he does most of his damage,” Knicks center Nerlens Noel said earlier this week. “Limit his second-chance opportunities and second-chance points for his team.
“I’m readying day by day, making it a focal point during drills, making sure my body is good and ready, staying in the weight room. I’m ready to take it as a big task for myself. I know if I do my job it will help us be more victorious. I’m locked in.”
Capela, a 6-foot-10 Switzerland native, has a wealth of playoff experience from his first six seasons with the Rockets, appearing in 61 postseason games — including two trips to the Western Conference finals — before he was traded to Atlanta in February 2020 while he was recovering from an Achilles tendon injury.
Though slowing electric guard Trae Young will be a primary focus for the Knicks’ No. 1-ranked defense, limiting Capela’s second-chance opportunities and keeping him from dominating the glass also figures to be a key to the series.
“They’ve been a great team defensively, they have guys at the rim, they have good guards that know what they’re supposed to do,” the 27-year-old Capela said of the Knicks. “I feel like they’ve been really consistent about doing the same things every single game, and this is how they’ve created an identity defensively.”
The Hawks were upset this week that Capela — who also finished third in the league in blocked shots behind the Jazz’s Rudy Gobert and Noel — was not voted as a finalist for the Defensive Player of the Year award. Gobert, who has won the award twice, the 76ers’ Ben Simmons and the Warriors’ Draymond Green are in contention.
“He’s in my mind definitely the best defensive player in the league,” Hawks teammate and ex-Knick Danilo Gallinari said of Capela. “There is nobody that can give you everything that he can give you. He can block shots, but not just that, a lot of stuff that he does you don’t see in the stats. Positioning, weak-side [help], timing, quick hands, a lot of things that you don’t see maybe on the [score] sheet, great rim protector and great pick-and-roll defender.
“He’s got it all, and in my mind, he’s definitely the Defensive Player of the Year.”