After defeating the Utah Jazz in the first round, Houston Rockets big man Clint Capela had an interesting quote about the road to winning the NBA title.
The Swiss-born 24-year-old told reporters that he wanted to face the Golden State Warriors (who defeated the Rockets in seven games during the Western Conference Finals last season) because you need to beat the champions to be the champs.
Dethroning Golden State, now expected to face Houston without their injured superstar Kevin Durant after suffering a mild strain on his right calf, would be a major achievement for Capela and his team. But his quote about playing the Warriors included below doesn’t represent the path to their redemption.
We looked into the details over the past 70 years, and it turned out the statement from Capela was not entirely true.
Since 1948, there have been 22 instances (31.4 percent) where the team that won the NBA title had to defeat the reigning champion. So there is some legitimate validity to what Capela said about the Warriors.
But this has only happened six times since 1991 and many of the instances came during the 1970s when it occurred five times during that decade alone.
Just as often as beating the previous champion, the team that won the title was a repeat from the season before. That speaks a bit to the point Capela made in that if you do not defeat the winners, they hold the championship pedigree to make another run.
But the most often case of someone winning the title occurred when the team won the title but did not have to beat the defending champions along the way.
Whether that means someone else knocked them out or the previous winners did not even qualify for the playoffs (which has happened twice since 1948), this represents evidence that beating the champions certainly does not secure a title for your team.
It is entirely possible that the Rockets could defeat the Warriors, for example, and still fall to the Eastern Conference winners in the NBA championship. It would be a huge achievement to knock off Golden State – but far from one that would warrant a parade.
HoopsHype’s Alberto de Roa contributed research to this report