Austin Rivers' play a hit on Clippers' home court, and on home front

Austin Rivers' play a hit on Clippers' home court, and on home front
Blake Griffin, left, and Chris Paul come off the bench to congratulate Austin Rivers after his 15-point third quarter Friday against Houston. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

It was like a Broadway star returning from a brief absence only to watch his understudy steal the show in its climactic scene.

Not that Clippers point guard Chris Paul minded being upstaged by Austin Rivers in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals Friday night.

Paul enjoyed it so much that he went home and watched a replay of Rivers' 15-point barrage in the third quarter that sparked a game-changing 18-0 run by the Clippers.

"I got chills there for a second," Paul said Saturday of the initial experience of seeing his often-disparaged backup change the complexion of a game the Clippers won, 124-99, to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven playoff series against the Houston Rockets.


There was a similar reaction afterward in the Rivers household, where Austin's mother didn't show the same restraint his father, Clippers Coach Doc Rivers, did in downplaying his emotions about the moment.

"She was in a good mood," Doc Rivers said. "Happy wife, happy life."

There was plenty of good cheer to go around the Clippers' practice facility Saturday after Paul persevered in his first game back from a strained left hamstring and pronounced himself available for Game 4 on Sunday evening at Staples Center.

The Clippers even laughed off reserve forward Glen Davis' receiving a $5,000 fine for flopping the previous night when he exaggerated his fall backward as the result of contact with Houston's Dwight Howard.

"As long as we get away with it," Rivers joked, "I'm fine."

Austin Rivers wasn't the only supporting cast member to attain higher billing for the Clippers on Friday. Forward-center Spencer Hawes, who had played a total of 10 playoff minutes before Game 3, energized the team with his rebounding and defense in 11 quality minutes against the Rockets.

Doc Rivers said he had a gut feeling Hawes should play after watching him work out for two hours Thursday with player development coach Dave Severns as if Hawes was preparing for an important role in Game 3. It turned out he was.

"What he did was really, really remarkable," Paul said of Hawes, who contributed in nearly every statistical category with two points, three rebounds, two assists and two blocks.

The same could be said for Austin Rivers, who had been criticized as inconsistent and often out of control after arriving in a January trade. Rivers played well in a road victory over the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs and stepped up with 17 points in the Clippers' triumph over Houston in the opener of this series but had never taken over a game like he did in the third quarter Friday.

It started when he made a three-pointer to extend the Clippers' lead to 84-76 and kept going when he drove on Terrence Jones for a layup, was fouled and made the free throw to complete a three-point play. By the time Rivers added two more driving layups and a 10-foot floating jumper, the Clippers were on their way to a 23-point cushion and fans were chanting "Austin Rivers! Austin Rivers!"

"I had so much fun out there," said Rivers, who made six of eight shots in the quarter and finished the game with 25 points. "In transition defense they were kind of getting lost a little bit, and I just kept seeing they were kind of just backpedaling because it's hard to guard when someone is going at you full speed and can change direction, so I was just going at them."

Paul told Doc Rivers in a nationally televised exchange that he was free to be a Dad and not just a coach, but the coach downplayed sentimentality after the game and the next day.

"This is about our team," Doc Rivers said Saturday. "It's not a family moment."

The businesslike approach was not a new dynamic in a relationship that sometimes hardly resembles father and son.

"It's always been coach-player," Austin Rivers said after the game. "He [coached] in Boston, I grew up in Orlando. Every time we talk it's always basketball."

The family banter just got a whole lot more fun.

Twitter: @latbbolch