Austin Rivers looking to make a splash defensively for Rockets


HOUSTON -- When Austin Rivers came into the NBA, getting buckets at a high level was what he did. 

Still, the NBA has a way of converting players into being whatever it is they need to be in order to stick around. 

Rivers has indeed made this transformation, from a score-first player to more of a defensive stopper for this Rockets team.

So. yes, Kyrie Irving will see a decent amount of his fellow Duke alum when the Celtics (20-13) try to keep their winning streak alive against the Rockets, who will be without All-Star Chris Paul due to a hamstring injury. 

In comes Rivers to help fill that void, a player signed by Houston for the remainder of this season after the Phoenix Suns waived him immediately after being acquired via trade from Washington. 

The need to add Rivers was fueled by Paul’s injury as well as former Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Knight both struggling when afforded minutes.

In Rivers’ first game with Houston against Oklahoma City on Christmas Day, he had 10 points on 3-for-6 shooting from the field. 

More significant was what he did defensively against Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook. 

Westbrook had 21 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in the 113-109 loss, with Rivers’ defense on him being a key to the game’s outcome. 

Rivers defended Westbrook on 24 possessions, more than any other Rockets player. Westbrook took six shots from the floor with Rivers on him, missing all but one of them. 

And in the fourth quarter, Westbrook missed both shots he took with Rivers defending along with committing a pair of turnovers.

On the final offensive sequence for the Thunder, Rivers did not allow Westbrook to touch the ball until the clock expired.

“Just trying to make it tough [on Westbrook],” Rivers told reporters after the game. “Everything has to be challenged.”

And it doesn’t get any easier for Rivers tonight against Irving, who in the past two games, has averaged 16.5 points... in the first quarter alone.

“We know each other so well, we know each other’s games,” said Irving, whose 32.5 points per game average the past two games only trails Rivers' teammate James Harden (40.0 points per game) in that span. “I’ve been watching Austin since he was 15, 16 years old. Offensively and defensively, it’s going to be a great matchup.”

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