Austin Rivers Gets Stitches, Returns With 21 Points
PORTLAND, Ore. – Austin Rivers’ eyes welled up as he sat at the podium, even as he could barely open his left one.
It was a cathartic moment for the backup point guard, as everything played back in his mind after getting 11 stitches around his eye in the first quarter of the Clippers’ Game 6 series-ending loss, only to return and post 21 points, eight assists and six rebounds before falling a shot short of extending the Clippers’ season.
“A lot of people doubted us,” Rivers said. “A lot of people thought we wouldn’t be able to fight. We showed a lot of heart.”
Everything Rivers had gone through – both on a personal level and simply as a member of a Clippers team that had lost its two superstars and still nearly sent the series against Portland back home to Los Angeles for a Game 7 – it all came to his mind.
His relationship with his teammates, who fought to the bitter end, that came to his mind. His relationship with Jamal Crawford, who told Rivers how much he believed in the young guard the minute Rivers came to the Clippers last year, that came to his mind. The grittiness the Clippers showed as a team, overcoming deficits throughout the night to tie Game 6 up with seconds remaining, that came to Rivers’ mind, too.
Of course, after a fourth straight 50-win season, so did the bitter defeat.
“We went out there and believed in each other and we were a play away from going to overtime,” Rivers said. “It’s mixed emotions right now – I’m sad and disappointed, but at the same time, I’m very proud.”
That was the resounding feeling coming from one of the more emotional postgame locker rooms anyone will see in professional sports, as the Clippers’ season ended Friday night, despite the effort from Rivers, who was bleeding throughout the majority of his 48 minutes on the court.
“This one hurts,” Rivers said, more emotionally than physically, despite the fact his eye was swollen shut to the point he said he had trouble seeing.
Rivers had scored five of the Clippers’ first 11 points to help grab an early lead when he took an inadvertent elbow to the face from Al-Farouq Aminu in the first quarter. Immediately, Clippers head athletic trainer Jasen Powell came on the court to put a towel over Rivers’ face to limit the bleeding.
The injury required seven stitches below and four stitches above his left eye. A quarter later, Rivers was back in the game.
“It looked like a boxing match for him,” said Doc Rivers. “He’s a baller. He likes playing basketball, and so did our team. I think Paul (Pierce) said that earlier, we’ve got a bunch of ballers on this team. Guys just like playing.”
And, with the Clippers already playing without Chris Paul at the position, Austin Rivers knew he needed to return. Pablo Prigioni filled the point guard spot as Austin RIvers got treated, then Rivers came back and finished with more made field goals than he had stitches below his eye and more assists than he had above his eye.
The Clippers entered Moda Center on Monday already severely depleted, with Paul and Blake Griffin both getting injured for the series in Game 4. Paul underwent surgery this week on his fractured right hand, while Griffin aggravated his left quad injury, forcing him out for the remainder of the playoffs.
“You see your leader go down and you see your second leader go down, it’s tough,” Austin Rivers said. “I thought we did a good job, we stepped up. We were this close to getting a Game 7. I don’t know what else to say. We left it all out there.”
For Austin Rivers, that included his own blood, which wasn’t the first time something like that happened to him.
In the preseason, he lost multiple teeth after taking an elbow from a teammate at practice while the Clippers were in China. Monday’s elbow on a rebound attempt night left him bloodied, bruised and swollen, but the Clippers needed him, and he delivered with the second 20-plus point performance of his postseason career.
It was nearly enough.
“You look at his face, he looked like he was in a boxing match,” Crawford said. “I couldn’t be more proud of him and his growth.”