The Clippers won in Houston Friday night. In just about any of the last 10 NBA regular seasons, that result would not register as anything especially noteworthy. In this one, with the Rockets coming into the game holding the NBA’s best record and the Clippers sagging towards a lottery appearance and a probably rebuild, and playing without Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverley, Danilo Galinari, Milos Teodosic, and Wesley Johnson, it’s at least worth a flabbergasted whuh?
If you’d pinned your Clippers hopes on Austin frickin’ Rivers is gonna frickin’ go OFF baby, first of all you are probably that one Austin Rivers diehard out there, practicing weirdly jerky dribble moves and hilarious flailing layups on the playground at 2 a.m. Rock on, buddy. More to the point, you had yourself a night last night!
On a Clippers team stripped of virtually all of its legitimate playmaking chops, the burden of just, you know, throwing the ball at the hoop fell to the at-times all-too-willing duo of Austin Rivers and Lou Williams. Williams has some history of turning heavy usage into big time scoring performances; Rivers’s history is mostly of him slipping on banana peels and shit. But Friday night Rivers and Williams combined for 68 points and 14 assists, and led their woefully underpowered team back from a 15-point second half deficit. Sure, the Rockets were without Clint Capela and Chris Paul. I urge you to look over the list of available Clippers players last night before chalking this result up to those injuries. The Clippers still had to do the shit, and do the shit they did, behind a career-high 36 points from, of all people, Austin Rivers.
Rivers has some actual strengths as an NBA player, besides happening to be the spawn of one of the NBA’s most proven head coaches: he cuts well, and he defends well, and he is generally quick enough to get inside an opposing defense, even if his finishing sometimes looks like he’s been hit with a significant electric shock immediately upon gathering the ball. Most of his success Friday night came on just playing to his strengths, in a setting where he had more license than usual to spread his wings. The shot that really got him going came early in the third quarter (about 1:18 in the video), when he used one of his charmingly staccato dribble moves to create space against Nene, then buried a wild-looking trey right in the old man’s mug. A few minutes later Rivers successfully ran back the same move against a completely indifferent James Harden, and suddenly the game was tied.
The danger in Austin Rivers knocking down a pair of ill-advised step-back threes is not, generally, that he will go on to torch the opposition; in fact, the danger is usually that he will go on to drag his team to hell via a barrage of equally ill-advised shots. But that was not to be his fate Friday night: Rivers continued to cook all through the final period, posting 14 points on seven shots and combining with Williams to extend the Clippers’ lead and run away from the Rockets.
Rivers, for all the shit he catches for being the coach’s son, is a delightful basketball player, in no small part because he plays as if his internal sense of the beauty and majesty and value of his contributions is many orders of magnitude greater than reality, which leads to him swaggering into all sorts of bad ideas, to the viewer’s great comedic benefit. Rivers bombing out of the NBA would be a real bummer; second to that, in a list of potential bummers arising out of the career of this mostly inconsequential NBA player, would be Rivers suddenly becoming, you know, good. So, hey, great game, Austin! Now don’t you ever do that again.