People gave Doc Rivers the side-eye when he traded for his son, Austin Rivers. The Los Angeles Clippers needed a backup point guard, and with New Orleans the son had not panned out. A dad had never coached his kid in the NBA, but the Rivers were OK with making history.
In the months since they united, Doc coached the Clippers into the playoffs and Austin earned limited playing time. Then Sunday happened. Sunday, the father was vindicated to tears as the son displayed all his father knew was in him in a game the Clippers desperately needed.
Austin Rivers, playing with a new-found energy and confidence, scored 16 points in San Antonio against the defending champions—an effort that was needed to avoid falling behind 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.
Rivers was outstanding, making 7 of 8 shots, including daring forays to the basket, showing the skill set that made him a star in his one year at Duke and the No. 10 pick in the NBA Draft two years ago. He had not played that well in his NBA career. To do it in the playoffs when the Clippers were reeling was exactly what a father dreams of.
“What he did out there motivated our team,” said Chris Paul (34 points), who finished what Rivers started with a brilliant fourth quarter. “He gets a game ball.”
The Clippers shortfall has been consistent production from their bench, which was code for Austin Rivers, the way Doc Rivers saw it.
“There’s a whole bench, but Austin’s always the piñata,” Doc Rivers told Yahoo Sports. “The thing I don’t like is that (media) guys use that name to get hits. It’s so cheap. And I hate that. All the way back, that always pissed me off. Guys writing about him just because it’s going to get hits. For that, I feel for him. It makes me think sometimes I wish I wasn’t the dad in this case.”
But that’s a fleeting thought. Perhaps the struggles of his son made the coach more emotional after the game than he might otherwise have been. He knows how the struggles have impacted his kid. . . and him.
“For a moment, for a half-second maybe, I became a dad in there,” he said to Yahoo! Sports before quickly wiping away tears in the aftermath of seeing his players celebrate his son’s performance. “Listen, we haven’t been together a lot. In a lot of ways, I am his coach.
Indeed, Austin followed his dad’s path as a high-school sensation to the NBA. Truth be told, the son has more skills than the father, who was a tough, hard-nosed player whose strength was how he thought the game and led his teams. Austin is a today player, skilled at creating shots off the dribble and finishing around the rim over bigger defenders. If it turns out he has the heart of his father, he may yet evolve into a top-notch player.
“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.”
He had to be proud of his son’s post-game handling of the attention, too. There was no chip-on-the-shoulder remarks, not “I-told-you-so.”
The closest Austin Rivers came to that was this: “This is something I know I can do.”
Otherwise, he was humility personified. ““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.”
If he can stay comfortable and consistent, those who gave Rivers a side-eye for acquiring his son will understand why dad did.