Austin Rivers needed only a moment to process the question: When was the last time he felt this good on the court?
“I don’t know,” Rivers said late Wednesday night before the answer popped into his head. “High school, really. Winter Park. For real.”
Those were the days when Rivers seemingly ruled the basketball world as one of the top prospects in the country. He would go on to one solid season at Duke before spending 2 1/2 underwhelming seasons as a backup guard with the New Orleans Pelicans after they had made him the 10th overall pick in the 2012 draft.
His start with the Clippers last season after they traded for him in midseason was plagued by questions about playing for his father, Doc Rivers, the team’s coach and president of basketball operations. There were some special performances sprinkled in among many nondescript ones.
Austin Rivers spent most of training camp talking about his improved jumper, but there was no evidence in the numbers early in the season. He made only 14 of his first 68 three-pointers, an unsightly 20.6%.
His struggles were so pronounced that teammate and fellow Duke alumnus J.J. Redick memorized the particulars from a recent slump.
“He was four for 36 from three before he got going in Charlotte,” Redick said. “From that game on, it’s been a completely different player.”
The reborn Rivers scored 16 points on seven-for-10 shooting Wednesday during the Clippers’ 109-98 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, the latest jolt in a surge of productivity.
Over his last four games, Rivers has averaged 18.3 points while making 28 of 46 shots (60.9%) and 11 of 17 three-pointers (64.7%).
Rivers credited a recent clear-the-air conversation with former New Orleans coach Monty Williams, who acknowledged making some mistakes in the way he handled Rivers while Williams coached the Pelicans. There’s also a mantra Rivers said he repeats to himself before every game, though he wouldn’t say what it is.
“I don’t pump myself up,” Rivers said. “It’s just a reminder. It helps me lock in.”
So do the improved chemistry and communication of the Clippers’ reconfigured second unit that now includes guard Pablo Prigioni and center Cole Aldrich.
“I’m just back to being confident,” Rivers said. “That doesn’t mean just scoring, it means being comfortable out there playing and having fun. I know what I need to do and I go for it and try to be aggressive.”
Redick likened himself to a “proud papa” watching Rivers’ transformation.
“He’s playing at a very high level right now,” Redick said. “He’s given us offense, he’s given us defense. It’s very fun to watch.”
Feeling left out?
The Clippers may not have a player selected as an All-Star starter for the first time since Chris Paul joined the team before the 2011-12 season.
Golden State’s Draymond Green (332,223 votes) and San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (330,929) have overtaken Blake Griffin in the latest fan voting figures for Western Conference frontcourt players released Thursday. Griffin now ranks fifth with 298,212 votes, also trailing Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant (616,096) and the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant (1,262,118), the leading vote-getter among all players.
Griffin’s slippage may be somewhat attributable to a partially torn left quadriceps tendon that has sidelined him for the Clippers’ last six games. Griffin was selected as a starter last season but could not play because he was recovering from a staph infection in his right elbow.
Paul (268,672) remained third in voting among West guards, behind Golden State’s Stephen Curry (925,789) and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (479,512).
The top three frontcourt players and top two guards in voting will be the starters for the All-Star game Feb. 14 in Toronto.