The Los Angeles Clippers keep finding out Austin Rivers is more than legitimate NBA player, but also something of a postseason star, leading the way in a blowout 124-99 win over the Houston Rockets to take a 2-1 lead in the conference semifinals.
Rivers scored 25 points off the bench while Chris Paul scored 12 on his return, looking rusty but not trying too hard in the 23 minutes he played in. J.J. Redick was on fire with 31 points and 11-of-14 from the field, while Blake Griffin didn’t try and do everything on his own for once, which worked out quite well for the home team, getting 22 points and 14 rebounds from their leader in this postseason.
One sequence of playing in the third quarter determined the outcome of the game. After a 3-pointer from Corey Brewer made it a 5-point game again (3:49 remaining), the Clippers missed a 3-pointer and it became a potentially one-possession game. But Josh Smith was called for an offensive foul and Austin Rivers hit a huge 3-pointer to put the lead back at 8. The Rockets remained stuck on 76 until two minutes into the fourth quarter, and the lead was 28 points big by then.
An entire arenas shouting Austin Rivers’ name. It’s not the first time in this postseason that he’s been something of a hero for the Clippers. A player that during certain moments this season looked disastrous and should have been on the poster of some nepotism advert has bad days or good ones. There’s no in between, and suddenly, playing in the postseason for the first time in his life, he makes everyone find out that he’s a lot more than just a young man that his dad is saving him from flunking out of the league.
Besides the Clippers playing great basketball in a very short spurt, there’s the other side to this. A Houston Rockets team that gives up and lets a small little dribble turn into a tsunami that washes them away. A team with talent, defense, a superstar and pretty much a tool for every problem, suddenly crumbles, as if someone knocked their feet from under them. As if it’s only when they get free throws from lenient referees than things can work for them.
Players like Josh Smith and Trevor Ariza keep missing wide open shots. Terrence Jones and Jason Terry are black holes on defense. Dwight Howard can’t keep it decent from the line (4-of-11). When all of that happens, James Harden needs to tremendous, MVP’ish if you will. But with only 25 points and “just” 5-of-5 from the line the Rockets aren’t going anywhere. Not when most of the team is playing well below the level they’re expected of.
The Clippers have Chris Paul back, and that’s a scary thought for a Rockets team that can’t take advantage of having a better bench and the best player on the court most of the time. Maybe it has to do with something on the bench and the confidence their coaching staff gives them. Maybe it’s just players who have no heart. But for a team to crumble and wither away like that twice in three games doesn’t bode well for the competitiveness in the rest of this series.