LOS ANGELES — Just as expected, a Los Angeles Clippers guard changed the complexion of Game 3. He outdueled the great scorer James Harden, and changing the momentum of the series by leading the Clippers to a blowout win.
We’re talking Austin Rivers.
What, you were expecting someone else?
Sure, Chris Paul suited up and played 23 minutes, putting up 12 points and seven assists. But it was Rivers, who had 15 of his 25 points in the third quarter leading a 23-0 Clippers run — while Paul and Blake Griffin were resting — who helped break the game wide open and help the Clippers cruise to a 124-99 win.
The Clippers now lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 Sunday at Staples — a contest close to a must-win for the Rockets.
The Clippers had it all going Friday night at home. CP3 was back, J.J. Redick knocked down shots on his way to 31 points, they played solid defense most of the night, but Rivers was the story. The guard much maligned since the Clippers picked him up — there were all sorts of nepotism comments after his father Doc Rivers brought him in, then Rivers played poorly during the season — has played well lately in the playoffs.
“It was great. It was needed,” Doc Rivers said of his son. “He was just very aggressive, and that’s what we’ve been telling him to do. And he was that…. It was important really because it allowed us to keep (Paul) at the minutes we wanted That was huge for us.”
Friday night Austin was just fun to watch — and Paul told Doc Rivers just to enjoy watching his son play.
A lot of Clippers had good nights carving up the Rockets’ defense, which was out of sync and communicating poorly all night. Particularly in the third quarter.
“We didn’t play much defense at that point,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “They made a few shots on us, we had a couple turnovers during that stretch, and you know they were running, we weren’t getting back. We played very poorly during that stretch, needless to say.”
On the night, Redick had 31 points and hit 5-of-6 from three. Blake Griffin had 22 points and 14 boards. Jamal Crawford had a dozen.
When asked a few times a few different ways after the game about how his hamstring felt during the game, Paul would only say “I got through it.”
What was clear through the game was the Clippers played solid defense on the night, the Rockets did not. The Clippers did a good job of defending without fouling — James Harden only got to the line five times on his way to 25 points (a number of those in garbage time late). Dwight Howard had 14 points and 14 assists.
“I mean, they scored 124 points,” McHale said, shaking his head. “We’ve got to get some defensive — we’ve had one good defensive half so far. That was the second half of the second game. But other than that we haven’t gotten anything.”
If they don’t get it Sunday, the series could be ending sooner rather than later.