There is one main characteristic that defines all championship level teams. That characteristic is the ability to win in a variety of ways. At this point it's very evident that the Clippers lean on their starting 5, as well as former 6th man of the year Jamal Crawford, more so than any other team in the league. That isn't necessarily a bad thing given how well they have performed, but to become a great team the players that you don't expect to play a major role have to play a major role. Maybe not on a nightly basis. Hell, maybe not even for an entire game or an entire series. However, overcoming the adversity that the NBA playoffs brings require certain lower level players persevering despite their own shortcomings. I don't think there is a better example of a person overcoming adversity then Austin Rivers, a man that has a love-hate relationship with his own fan base, turning a close game into a laughing stock as the main cog in a 23-0 run. If becoming a championship team means accomplishing the impossible then the entire Staples Center chanting the name of Austin Rivers is a hell of an omen.
Three games in and it is pretty clear. The Houston Rockets just aren't all that good. They have been the better team for one half of basketball, and that's including two games in which Chris Paul was sitting on the bench in a velvet suit. Speaking strictly in terms of talent the sum of their parts is just about equal with the Clippers. Unfortunately for them, that's where the comparisons end. The Rockets are a group of great players. The Clippers are a great team. Does Houston even run sets? Is isolating James Harden 85% of your plays considered 'running an offense'? The looseness of the ref's whistle on any particular night is the difference between the Rockets offense working or not working. It's almost like one of their top 3 play calls is 'Harden to the line'. Has Dwight Howard been better than I expected? Yeah, but I truthfully wasn't expecting much. With that said, he's definitely not someone that scares me, especially in a close game. He makes DeAndre Jordan look like Reggie Miller at the free throw stripe. He shouldn't even be sitting on the bench when he is not in the game. He should be walking that perfectly sculpted NBA body down the yellow brick road with the Tinman trying to find some heart. Is it good that the Rockets starting point guard has become the 4th best point guard in the series? Look at this list of names: Chris Paul, Austin Rivers, Blake Griffin, Jason Terry. Now if we are talking about players that have been walking the ball up the court and successfully running an offense which name does not fit? The Jet could use a Red Bull because someone clipped his wings. Don't even get me started on Josh Smith. Much like a possession that ends with Josh Smith taking a jump shot, any words used to describe him would be wasted.
Honestly, if we were talking about any other team I would be concerned that Austin Rivers stealing their superstar's celebration would light a fire under their ass. However, this is Houston. This is team that was one hot quarter away from being down 3-0 despite the absence of CP3. Rivers 'cookin' up' that three may as well have been a dagger to what's left of the Houston Rocket's dignity. It would take a drastic turn of events to convince me that the Clippers do not come out on top in this series. They are finding new ways to win, and looking like facing San Antonio in the first round may have been the best thing that happened to them. Nothing instills more confidence then coming from behind to beat the defending champs.
Doc may put on a good front...
"They're all my sons," the coach said. "I really believe that, if Lester [Hudson] or Matt [Barnes] had done the same thing, I would have been proud because I see all of them do the work."
...but there's no way that wasn't an incredibly special moment. The irony that the Clippers back up point guard has gone from a cause for concern to one of the main reasons his team has now won two crucial postseason games is exactly what the NBA playoffs are about. It's also a reason why a deep playoff run looks more like more of a certainty than a possibility. Austin Rivers has benefited from the mentorship of Doc and CP3 while also making dear old Dad look good as a GM. Combine that with the play on the floor, and that's what I call a win-win-win situation.