Duke Basketball: Austin Rivers comes up clutch in debut for Rockets

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

On a Christmas Day with a slate of five NBA games that featured a handful of former Duke basketball players, Austin Rivers became the first to have a significant impact, helping to seal a win during his debut for his new team.

Mr. Dean Dome Devastator proved to Duke basketball fans back in 2012 during his one season in Durham that he has the ability to thrive at the end of close games; the ultimate moment of proof came when he ripped the heart out of the Tar Heels on their home floor by nailing a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer over then-UNC big man Tyler Zeller.

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And on Christmas Day 2018, Austin Rivers showed fans of his latest NBA team that just his clutch hand alone makes him a valuable asset.

Although he wasn’t in the starting lineup, fans of the Houston Rockets are grateful he was a member of the closing one.

Just one day after his first practice with his new squad — he ended up in Houston after being picked up as an unrestricted free agent last week in order to help fill the void resulting from a pulled hamstring that has star point guard Chris Paul sidelined indefinitely — the 26-year-old guard scored seven much-needed points across the final four minutes of the Rockets’ 113-109 home win against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

His first made 3-pointer for the franchise came with four minutes to play and Houston leading by only six, sparking the franchise’s official Twitter account to wish him the following warm welcome:


And his second bucket from downtown came two minutes later as the Rockets were nursing just a four-point advantage.

Finally, with seven seconds on the clock and the Thunder threatening to potentially send the game into overtime, Rivers hit the second of two free throws to extend the lead to four, ensuring five extra minutes would not be in store.

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The seven-year NBA veteran finished with 10 points on 3-for-6 shooting from the field (2-for-3 from long distance and 2-for-4 from the charity stripe).

Across his 31 minutes of action, Rivers also contributed two rebounds, one assist, and a ball-hawking defensive effort that helped force Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook to often settle for bad shots — he was just 6-for-20 — on his way to 21 points.

While the Rockets’ James Harden was the star of the game — 41 points, seven dimes, six boards — the new guy in town made Duke-fan viewers proud and Houston fans happy to have him.

Rivers, who averaged 7.2 points this season across 29 appearances for the Washington Wizards, will likely appear in a similar role — he handled the point for the Rockets most of the time he was in the game — when Houston, now 18-15 after winning seven of their last eight, hosts the Boston Celtics on Thursday at 8 p.m. on TNT.

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Stay tuned to Ball Durham all season long for more updates on highlight performances by former Blue Devils in the NBA.