Rivers spearheads Pelicans to opening win in Vegas
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
Surrounded by national reporters Friday in Las Vegas, Austin Rivers was repeatedly asked about the New Orleans Pelicans’ numerous recent roster additions, particularly those in the backcourt.
“We got better,” Rivers said. “Any time a team gets better, you have to like that.”
Based on Friday’s NBA Summer League opener, the Pelicans hope they’ll be saying the same thing next season about the second-year combo guard from Duke. Rivers turned in an excellent all-around performance, registering 24 points, seven rebounds and six assists in a 77-72 victory over New York. The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder was at his best attacking the rim vs. the Knicks’ summer squad, resulting in three conventional three-point plays and 11 free-throw attempts. He was an efficient 8-for-15 from the field.
After a rookie season negatively impacted by injuries, Rivers appeared to be fully healthy and more explosive on drives to the paint. In one telling example, he attacked the rim and tried to throw down a flying dunk over a New York defender. Though he missed the slam, he drew contact and was rewarded with free throws.
“You could just see his desire,” New Orleans summer league head coach Bryan Gates said. “His broke his hand (in March) and got back on the court (in a game for the first time since the injury). I thought he did great. The game is slowing down (for him) just a little bit, and he’s slowing down a little bit, not getting so anxious.”
“I’ve just got to come to training camp ready, and whatever happens, happens,” Rivers said, when asked about his expectations for 2013-14. “I’m not worried. I know at the end of the day, I’m going to play. I trust myself. My whole thing is to just go in and help the team win. I’m not worried about trades or who’s leaving, or what trade might happen. Things could still happen before the season starts. I’m not really worried about it. I’m just going to continue to work.”
New Orleans (1-0), which will play next on Sunday vs. Milwaukee (7:30 p.m. Central), also received quality contributions from its other familiar faces. After a scoreless first half, small forward Darius Miller dropped in 12 points, including a pair of key three-pointers. Brian Roberts added 10 points.
Among the lesser-known summer Pelicans, backup big Cameron Moore of UAB made the largest impact, registering 13 points and six rebounds in just 18 minutes of action. Moore dropped in a dozen points prior to halftime.
Rivers was equally effective in each half, scoring 13 and 11 points for his game-high total of 24. The one blemish was his four missed throws, but he made three straight in the fourth quarter to help ice the win. The 20-year-old was playing in front of his father, Doc Rivers, whose Clippers played in the next game at Cox Pavilion vs. the Hawks. The younger Rivers also acknowledged that although Friday was an encouraging start as he looks ahead to 2013-14, he knows he has more work to do to impress Pelicans head coach Monty Williams.
“I’ve got to continue to work and keep listening to Coach,” Rivers said. “He’s going to stay on me. I could’ve had 80 points today, and he would (still) have a list of things I didn’t do (well). That’s what I want. That’s how you get better.”