Duke in the NBA Playoffs: Austin Rivers’ Breakout Performance

Is Los Angeles Clippers head coach/GM Doc Rivers’ gamble starting to pay off?  Rivers’ son Austin, whom he traded for earlier this season, was a steadying flash of offense on Sunday in the Clippers’ pivotal Game 4 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, an afternoon that marked the (as of now) high point of Austin’s NBA career.  Fresh off the heels of a Game 3 blowout loss that saw Austin make some solid plays in fourth quarter garbage time, the backup guard came off the bench to provide an offensive spark in Game 4.  After not taking a shot in one minute of first quarter action, Austin shot 7 for 8 from the field over the final three quarters, and threw in a couple of “and-ones” for good measure.  Take a look at this finish at the rim against Tim Duncan in the first few minutes of the fourth quarter:

By the time the clock hit triple zeroes Austin had tallied 17 points, the fourth-highest total of his 45 games in a Clippers uniform this season.  His ability to create his own shot was on display Sunday, as he got off several good looks from within fifteen feet, including a seven-footer off the glass while drawing a foul on San Antonio’s Patty Mills.  His constant drives to the basket seemed almost effortless, and assuredly weren’t something the Spurs expected to see much of.  It wasn’t just the offense, as Austin deflected no fewer than three San Antonio passes, two of which led to steals.  This was not only the biggest moment, but also the biggest stage, of the 22-year-old’s young career.

None of this was lost on LA’s leader and All-Star point guard Chris Paul, who led his teammates in a post game round of applause for the young guard.  “Game ball goes to Austin Rivers,” Paul said.  “This is his first playoffs.  What he did out there, it really just motivated our team.  It’s a hell of a game by Austin.”

The key for Austin now will be sustaining this level of play, and thus the ever-growing confidence that his teammates have in him.  He has shown small flashes on offense during his two years in the league, but his game lacks consistency.  When he decides to put his head down and charge towards the rack, as he did on Sunday, he can make plays for himself as well as loosen up the defense for LA’s outside shooters.

After a huge Game 4 win, the Clippers return home to face the Spurs in tonight’s Game 5.  While it was just the start for Austin in proving that he can be a trustworthy cog in the Clippers’ ship, Sunday afternoon’s performance was nonetheless necessary.  More playoff performances like that one can go a long way in proving his father’s gamble (trading away talented 2014 first-round-pick Reggie Bullock), was one worth taking.

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