If there is anyone who possesses homecourt advantage inside the Orlando bubble, it’s Austin Rivers. Sunday night, the Houston Rockets took a 129-112 victory over the Sacramento Kings behind a career-performance from Rivers. He recorded 41 points connecting on 14 out of his 20 attempts from the field, as the 28-year-old point guard became the first Rocket to drop 40 points off the bench since Sleepy Floyd in 1991.
Rivers scored 19 of his 41 points in the first half. At the time, the Rockets were in desperate need of a spark, as they trailed the Kings by 13 points early in the first quarter.
Over a seven-year career, Rivers has averaged a little under 10.0 points per game (9.2 PPG) with a career-best 38 points — before Sunday’s performance. Perhaps his breakout night may have been a surprise to the vast majority of the basketball world’s population, but Rivers says his lack of scoring is more so of accepting a role his team needs him to fill.
“I believe I’m a premier scorer, but I’m on a team where that’s not required of me every night. I play with the best scorer in the NBA, so you’ve got to play a role and buy-in.” — Rivers
Buying in is something Rivers has done continuously throughout his career. It’s the reason why he never had the opportunity to showcase the scoring abilities that made him a top-10 lottery pick (No. 10 Pelicans) coming out of Duke in 2012. After two and a half seasons in New Orleans, a trade to the Clippers saw him take a role where his scoring was not a necessity — playing on a team that featured Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
In fact, the only time Rivers’ scoring was an essential came during the 2017-18 season. The Clippers relied upon him more following Paul’s offseason departure to the Rockets. Rivers became Los Angeles’ starting point guard and averaged a career-best 15.1 points per game — scoring 30 or more three times during the season.
Fast forward two years later, Rivers has reprised a role similar to his first two seasons in Los Angeles. Playing behind James Harden, Russell Westbrook — and even Eric Gordon when healthy — the Rockets do not depend on Rivers scoring any more than 10 points in each contest. But with Gordon and Westbrook out, injuries one again allowed Rivers a chance to score at will.
“He’s been going to the gym in the morning and working on his jump shot. With no Russ and no Eric, he needed to be a little bit more aggressive, and he did that tonight. He’s going to be a key piece for where we’re trying to go” — Harden
The Rockets have been one of the hottest teams in the league since the restart (4-1), and an immense part of their success has been the production coming off the bench. Rivers’ breakout performance against the Kings was the latest example that the Rockets may have the deepest team in the league, with the post-season set to begin in less than a week. It’s a sight that is pleasing to the eye of Rockets’ head coach Mike D’Antoni.
“He’s [Austin Rivers] been playing well. He played great. We’ve had different guys step up, especially off the bench. We needed to find somebody, Danuel [House] was a little off in his offense today, but somebody else stepped right up, so it’s all good.” — Mike D’Antoni
En route to his 41-point performance, shot 6-of-11 from 3-point range and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line in 33 minutes. He also pulled down six rebounds and dished for assists in the win.