Commentary

A coming-of-age story

Austin Rivers' debut at TD Garden makes the Celtics feel -- and look -- old

Updated: January 17, 2013, 2:54 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- As New Orleans Hornets rookie Austin Rivers took the floor to polite applause on Wednesday night at TD Garden, his father, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, quietly removed Avery Bradley from the game. Someone gunning for Dad of the Year?

It was actually Boston's normal substitution pattern, and the elder Rivers held true to his word by putting his team's best on-the-ball defender on his son later in the game. But the whole experience left the elder Rivers uneasy while trying to balance his emotions as a coach and father.

"It's just a strange dynamic," Rivers said of only the fourth father/son battle in NBA history. "I didn't enjoy it, honestly. I know it's neat for everyone else, but, as a father, I don't know if I enjoyed that."

[+] EnlargeDoc Rivers
Yoon S. Byun/Getty Images"It's just a strange dynamic," said Doc Rivers about coaching against his son. "I didn't enjoy it, honestly. I know it's neat for everyone else, but, as a father, I don't know if I enjoyed that."

The younger Rivers sure did. Entering Wednesday's game fighting inconsistent playing time and a bit of a rookie slump, the 20-year-old guard got an extended run (teammate Eric Gordon was held out on the second night of a back-to-back) and chipped in eight points on 3-of-6 shooting over 22:43 as the Hornets emerged with a 90-78 triumph at TD Garden, snapping the Celtics' season-high six-game winning streak.

"I'm going in there right now," Austin Rivers said of his dad's office across the hall from the visitor's locker room. "I'm going to go into the [coaches'] room right now and say 'What's up' to my dad. It's my household now. Just joking, just joking."

Well, maybe kinda not joking. After all, it's Austin 1, Doc 0. The younger Rivers hasn't had this sort of winning feeling since the first time he topped his father in a driveway game of one-on-one about six years back.

As Austin Rivers noted before the game: "That's where I started to beat him and he started kicking the ball over the fence and all that. That's when I started taking over. We played a couple times, but that was it for him. Before then, he used to beat me in H-O-R-S-E, one-on-one, Connect4, Monopoly -- he got me in everything. But tables have turned a little bit."

And now the whole world has proof.

Young Austin, his confidence somewhat rattled by his first-year struggles in recent weeks, could take a victory lap after Wednesday's game. Even if it left his dad with mixed emotions.

"He does hate losing because he's a competitor, and that's where I get a lot of my competitiveness from, just being around him," Austin said. "And I know he's obviously down because it's his job, and part of him is probably happy because I played better."

The best (and maybe the worst) part for Doc Rivers: The two sides won't cross paths again until March 20 in New Orleans. You get the feeling the elder Rivers would much rather be in the stands rooting for his son than trying to game plan against him.

Coach Rivers seemed far more relaxed as his family gathered outside his office after the game, including Austin's mom, Kris; younger brother, Spencer; and older sister, Callie. The family shared a moment and then -- as is life in the NBA -- went their separate ways.

KG It was strange for everybody in here. If we didn't feel old, we feel a little old. Obviously, seeing a little kid who used to say absolutely nothing and dribble his ball and kind of be in his own little world to being a young man now in the league and trying to make something of himself and doing a good job of it ... it's good.

-- Kevin Garnett, on playing against Austin Rivers

The elder Rivers will gladly go back to scheming for the likes of Luol Deng and Joakim Noah than plotting against his own blood.

"George Karl this summer, we were laughing," explained Coach Rivers, who talked to Karl about coaching against his son, Coby, in the past. "He said, 'It's going to be strange and your guy's going to play more.' He was right."

For the elder Rivers, he found himself conflicted watching his son do well. A second-quarter layup left him screaming at Courtney Lee and Jeff Green when the paternal instinct was to high-five his kid on the way back up the floor.

"You see your son run by you down the floor -- I mean, that's just different," Rivers said. "The one time he made the layup in front of our bench and runs right by you, you know I'm used to being like, 'Keep going!' and instead I'm yelling at my guy for letting him get to the basket. It's just different."

Heck, it was different for some of Boston's players, who remember Austin as the quiet-but-confident high schooler challenging Paul Pierce to games of one-on-one when he popped into Celtics practices in Waltham.

"It was strange for everybody in here. If we didn't feel old, we feel a little old," Kevin Garnett admitted. "Obviously, seeing a little kid who used to say absolutely nothing and dribble his ball and kind of be in his own little world to being a young man now in the league and trying to make something of himself and doing a good job of it -- talking trash, running up and down, leading his team -- it's good. It's good to see Austin doing real good.

"I'm rooting for him, obviously, when he's away from here. But tonight, yeah, a little odd. I'll admit it. It was a little odd. But he's family. But we all hit the floor, we're all trying to win. But, yeah, it was odd."

The one thing that wasn't odd for the elder Rivers was seeing his son hit the floor. Austin Rivers sprinted at the basket in the closing moments of the third quarter, only to crash into Paul Pierce, hitting the floor hard while drawing a foul. Coach Rivers didn't even flinch.

"That's the one thing my kids know with me: When you got to the floor, I don't flinch. Get the hell up," Rivers joked. "They all laugh at that, because that's how I've always been. I never flinch. My wife would run out there; I'm not going out there. I mean, get the hell up."

For his part in the takedown, Pierce paid the rookie a hefty compliment.

"I see a kid who's gonna grow and grow as he continues to develop," Pierce said. "He plays with tremendous confidence and you know he's going to have a bright future as long as he continues to work hard. He's had a lot of ups and downs throughout the season, but a lot of rookies do when they first come in. But he'll eventually find his niche and be a player in this league."

Austin wins round one, but both father and son hope there's plenty of battles to come -- as nerve-wracking as that may be for dad. In the end, both sides are rooting for each other.

"I still want [the Celtics] to do well," Austin Rivers said. "Obviously when we play them I'm trying to win, but I watch a lot of their games and I want them to do well because I know a lot of those guys. And obviously I want my dad to do well, just because he invests so much time and he never sleeps. In the summertime when I'm home … at 4 in the morning, he's still doing stuff with basketball. So I just always want him to do well because I love him."

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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