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Chris Paul lauds Clint Capela as X-factor: ‘When he doesn’t play, we’re in trouble’

Chris Paul, Clint Capela, James Harden

Despite a star-studded showdown in the Western Conference Finals between the top-seeded Houston Rockets and the defending champion Golden State Warriors, the keys to the outcome will depend on the role players.

Clint Capela, who has been a work in progress during the last few seasons, has flourished into a key cog of this high-octane Rockets attack, one that All-Stars like Chris Paul have deemed vital to this series.

“It’s not just about this series, he’s important to our team,” Paul said of the native of Switzerland, according to Brent Zwerneman of The Houston Chronicle. “It’s no secret everybody wants to always point out me and James, but he’s the ‘X’ factor. When Clint doesn’t play, we’re in trouble.”

Despite a much-improved all-around game and several statement games to prove it, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni still believes his young center is flying under the radar.

“They underestimate him, which is good for us,” D’Antoni said of Capela. “The big thing is there’s always a little caveat. ‘He’s good for his role.’ No, he’s good. He’s a good center. For anybody who wants to play basketball, the guy can play.”

While Capela’s defense has taken a huge uptick under the tutelage of Hakeem Olajuwon, he has taken it to the next level in the last series against the Utah Jazz, blocking 3.6 shots per game during the five-game series, which concluded with four, six, and five-block performances from Games 3-5 — a testament to his commitment to protect the rim and a confidence-booster going into a real test against the Warriors.

“If they go small, he can give us that vertical spacing that we need,” D’Antoni said. “If they go big, obviously that’s right down his alley. His ability to be able to switch out on guards and his ability to be able to contest 3-point shots and (traditionally) guard the post gives us a unique center.”

“It’s almost a must that you have that against Golden State, otherwise they’re going to get you. This will help. They’re still going to get us to a certain degree, but hopefully we can lessen that, than if we just had a traditional center who can’t guard on the perimeter.”

Capela is averaging a career-high 14.4 points, 12.2 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game during 10 games in this postseason.