LOS ANGELES — Clippers guard¬†Austin Rivers’ 15 third quarter points led to a 23-0 run that gave them¬†the victory over the Houston Rockets in Game 3 and the advantage in the series. During all that, Chris Paul goes up to his head coach, Doc Rivers and says, “This is one time you can be a dad and not just coach.”
True, and we all would like to think that way and make this such a wonderful story that, in part, propels the Clippers to their first ever Western Conference Finals appearance in franchise history.
Unfortunately¬†for the story, it doesn’t work that way in the Rivers’ household. Really, the only difference between Austin and Doc’s other players is that he doesn’t have to pay rent whenever he stays at Doc’s house.
“They’re all my sons,” Doc said, “and I really believe that, like if Lester or Matt had done the same thing, I would have been proud, because I see all of them do the work.”
“It’s a different aspect,” Austin¬†said. “I wish you guys could see it from where I’m sitting.¬† Obviously you can’t, but it’s something where I don’t know how to really describe it, but our relationship has just kind of always been that.¬† It’s always been coach‚Äëplayer.¬† That’s the way it’s always been.¬† He grew up in Boston, I grew up in Orlando.¬† Every time we talk it’s always basketball.¬† Now when I came here it’s kind of been solidified, I’m the coach, I’m the player.¬† He’s hard on me.¬† You ask him.¬† You ask J.J., he’s hard on me, but it’s just because he wants the best out of me, and obviously looking forward in the future, we’ll probably look back at this, but I feel like the bottle has been open.”
From what has transpired, the proverbial bottle containing Austin’s potential has indeed been open. It only took Chris Paul being sidelined by a strained¬†hamstring after a heroic sacrifice in Game 7 against the San Antonio Spurs to give Austin the opportunity.
He was solid in the first two games with Blake Griffin mainly running the point and then his breakout performance in Game 3 with 25 points on 10-of-13 shooting with six rebounds and two assists showed that when it came to him finally breaking out of his NBA shell, it was only a matter of where rather than¬†when or if.
In New Orleans, the younger Rivers was never given a fair chance to be in the starting lineup despite being a first round draft pick.¬†When Austin came to Staples Center in December as a member of the Pelicans, the media worked the father vs. son story between him and Doc.
Doc publicly lamented the concept of coaching against his son after beating them. I simply suggested that as¬†President of Basketball Operations, he can just swing a trade to reunite himself with his son.
One month later, he comes to the Clippers in a trade the involved the departure of Chris Douglas-Roberts, Reggie Bullock and Jordan Farmar, all of which were relatively inconsequential¬†pieces to this possible championship puzzle. Everyone with a syndicated voice and a byline chose that as the time to question Doc’s intuition as a general manager. It even reached the point of them accusing Doc of nepotism, despite his constant consideration of his relationship with Austin as strictly professional.
Austin was also never in a fertile situation with the Pelicans. Always at the bottom of the bench with a team centered around big play from big men, but also voided of results. They also started this season by choosing not to take on Austin’s fifth-year option, making him a free agent at the conclusion of this season.
Being brought to the Clippers brought new life to Austin’s career — going from a poor situation to a team where every day, the coach pounds the drum of “We‚Äôre the best team in the NBA …¬†but the world doesn’t yet.” That takes a while for players to get used to.
“My pops always says that,” Austin said. “But I‚Äôve never had that feeling before.”
This Mother’s Day Sunday will be very special for the Rivers family. Having Game 4 of this series fall on that day almost makes it a fusion between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Both Rivers will have to bring home the win again in order to keep the feel good going.¬†Losing to the Rockets and allowing them to even the series will be like poking a hole in the party balloon and watching it with new-found depression descend towards the floor and die.
“Been here 35 years,” Rockets head coach Kevin McHale said, “and momentum comes and momentum goes, baby.¬† You’ve just got to go play on Sunday.”
Tony Capobianco started the SMDP column “Cap Space” just in time for the 2014-15 Clippers season. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.