LOS ANGELES-Six minutes. That’s all the time that Austin Rivers needed to help out his dad. That’s all the time the Los Angeles Clippers needed to put away the pesky Houston Rockets in Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinals series.
It was six minutes of exhilarating lights out basketball from Rivers, and six minutes of a quarter that the Rockets were not prepared for.
They were ambushed. The Rockets didn’t see this coming. Nor did anyone else. Coming off the bench to spell a still ailing Chris Paul at the 6:01 mark of third quarter, Rivers went rogue against the Rockets in that time period as the Clippers put Houston in their rearview mirror on the way to claiming a 124-99 win Friday night at Staples Center.
Rivers’ 15-point explosion in those six minutes put the game away for the Clippers. It also validates his father’s decision to pick him up in a trade midway during the season. Maligned in more ways than one this season, Rivers came through with a 25-point outing that the Clippers used as momentum to do away with the Rockets.
It’s also a good thing to make your father look good, which Rivers did with his all around strong play on both ends of the court.
“It was great. It was needed,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “He was just very aggressive, and that’s what we’ve been telling him to do, and he was that. I thought it started with his defensive rebounding. honetly, and that got him into the game. But it was important really because it allowed us to keep CP at the minutes. That was huge for us.”
The play of the younger Rivers made life much easier for the Clippers’ coaching staff. And with Paul still in the throes of getting his hamstring on the mend with time off the court, Austin Rivers, as he had done in Game 4 in the first round against the San Antonio Spurs, delivered when the ballclub desperately needed someone from the bench, other than Jamal Crawford, to produce in a big-time way.
With his star point guard still not even close to be 100 percent (Paul scored 12 points), Doc Rivers wanted someone to take up the slack. It just happened to be his son.
“It was huge tonight, and I didn’t care who went off,” Doc Rivers said. “I just knew it wasn’t going to be CP (Chris Paul) tonight. If it’s Jamal-we didn’t care. The fact that it was Austin was great, and it was needed. Tonight was really important for one of our guards to have that night because, again, it really allowed CP to just kind of ease into this.”
For his part, Austin Rivers said he was just having a ball in that third quarter.
“Oh, it was fun, man,” Austin Rivers said. “I had so much fun out there. It started with our defense. We kept getting stops, so we were just getting the rebound and going. In transition defense, they were kind of getting lost a little bit, and I just kept seeing they were kind of just backpedaling, because it’s hard to guard when someone is going at you full speed and can change directions, so I was just going at them. If they would have converged, I would have passed, but I just kept getting to the basket, and then just looked for my shots.”
The end reward is always worth the sacrifice, and the path Austin Rivers has been on to acceptance as a valuable commodity for the Clippers since his father traded for him midway into the 2014-2015 NBA season, has been slow, if not without caution by fans and media pundits. In 41 games during the regular season, Austin Rivers put up pedestrian numbers of 17 minutes, 7 points and just 1 assist as Paul’s backup.
To some people, that stat line hasn’t been good enough. But Austin Rivers made have made a breakthrough with that Game 4 performance against the Spurs. And now with his scoring outburst against the Rockets in Game, the trade looks like a very, very good one for Austin and the Clippers.
Asked if Game 3 was the crowning moment of his career, Austin Rivers implied that it was.
“Yeah, it was-I don’t know what to tell you,” Austin Rivers said. “It’s been a long journey. I’ve just continued to work through my rookie year, when I was hurt a lot, and up and down last year, same thing, and I just got right this summer. I just really put a lot of work in, more than I ever have in my life, and I just came into this season with just a lot of confidence through my hard work.
“And then when I came here to LA-I can’t give enough credit to the coaches and the players I play with. Working with Chris every day and guys like Jamal and J.J. and Blake, honestly, have been so beneficial for me. I’ve just learned a lot, and they’ve just taught me just to go play, and just whatever else happens will take care of itself.”