Starters Say Austin Rivers Changed The Game Sunday
SAN ANTONIO – It all started with a bucket and a foul for Austin Rivers.
Then came another basket, and another, as Rivers’ seven straight points early in the second quarter gave the Clippers the lead and were part of a series-high 16 points for the backup guard Sunday, who’s playing in the NBA playoffs for the first time in his career.
“I've been working so hard and this team has been working so hard,” Rivers said. “We expect this. I’m just going to keep attacking downhill and looking to make plays for my teammates and myself. I’m just having fun. I’m playing hard and having fun.”
That level of comfort continues to rise more with each game for Rivers, who was admittedly nervous the first five minutes of his first game when the series began.
“I had never played on this stage where every play matters, but after that five minutes passed, I realized it was still 10-feet goals, one ball and 5-on-5,” Rivers said. “Nothing changed. I’ve worked so hard before practice and after practice for this moment, and nothing has changed.
“My teammates gave me confidence, told me I’m going to be a big part of this and, ‘We need you,’ and when they said that, they gave me confidence. I’m just getting more and more comfortable.”
That’s been evident on the stat sheet, as Rivers has increased his point total in each of the first four games of the series, scoring 11 points in Game 3 and 16 in Game 4, the latter on 7-of-8 shooting in just 17 minutes.
Chris Paul walked over to Rivers during a timeout Sunday and told him how much he trusted and believed in him, which meant something to the young guard.
“I've learned a lot of things playing with No. 3 and just the way he carries us every night, and he came up to me and he said, ‘Man, I need your help,’” Rivers said. “That just put a lot of confidence in me. Chris Paul believes in me. I know I can do it. I believe in myself.
“Why not? Why not me? Just play hard. You’re going to make and miss shots. You’re not going to go 6-for-7 or 7-for-8 every night, but if you play hard, you’ll be fine.”
But on Sunday, at least, he did go 7-for-8, and that spark wasn't overlooked by his teammates.
Paul described Rivers’ game as “amazing,” allowing Paul to rest in the second quarter, and Paul added that the Clippers don’t win without Rivers’ performance.
J.J. Redick said Rivers played great and is at his best when he plays downhill the way he did Sunday. Blake Griffin said Rivers was the players who changed the game for the Clippers.
“It gives him confidence,” Griffin said. “I think he sees now just how much pressure he can put on a team. It’s funny, after the game Friday night, he and I were the last two in the locker room and I was talking to him. I was like, ‘Man, I think you should just come downhill and go. Just use that speed and quickness to make plays,’ and I thought that’s exactly what he did tonight.
“He was so good. He didn't hesitate, he attacked, he made the right plays. I mean, defensively he’s always great, especially on the ball, but offensively he just had the right mind-set tonight.”
As Griffin mentioned, his offense will be what people point to after Sunday’s game, but it was the defense that both Austin and Doc Rivers seemed most proud of.
Austin Rivers said he’s been an offensive player his whole life, but he let his defense lead to offense Sunday night, and that’s something Doc Rivers noticed as well.
“That was nice,” Doc Rivers said. “We needed it… It’s funny, what I told Austin was obviously his offense was good, but it was his defense that I thought, to be able to put him on multiple guys, I thought, was huge for us.”
In addition to Austin Rivers’ 16 points, Jamal Crawford scored 15 points and Glen Davis led the reserves with a plus-12 mark in 19 minutes. The starters know if Austin Rivers and the bench can keep up those types of performances, the Clippers will be in good shape.
“Sometimes, it takes both units a little time to get going, but him and Jamal knew they had to be aggressive tonight,” Jordan said. “We’re happy for them.”