Back in April Austin Rivers was sitting on his couch waiting for a phone call to join another NBA team after being traded from the Knicks to the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was waived right after wondering where he went wrong in his journey and began searching for answers. It was a humbling experience for him.
“All the feedback I kept getting is that a lot of teams liked me but they didn’t know what type of character I was and how I would be in their locker room,” Rivers said. “…And truthfully it broke my heart because I know who I am and I always had good relationships with people but you can have one mistake and be labeled something.”
Rivers has never had his character question so this was new to him. Denver decided to take a chance and sign him to a 10-day contract, also something that was new to him, and then they ended up signing him for the rest of the season.
“This game can bring you the lowest feeling in the world,” Rivers said. “I swear some of the nights you feel so lost and this game can make you feel so good about yourself. It’s a beautiful game and everything I’ve gone through these last two months had taught me to never take this granted. It makes me play with a different type of chip on my shoulder, a different hunger and I promised myself I’ll never be in that situation again.”
Fast forward to now, Rivers is apart of the Denver Nuggets 2021 playoff run and playing a huge role in the starting lineup. It took him some time to get situated but his teammates and coach Michael Malone made the transition smooth for him and helped build his confidence back up.
“It’s not normal to have that many guys affect you from the get go,” Rivers said. “It was such a warm welcoming here. Beyond anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. So that just boost my confidence… these guys talk to me throughout the game and we all talk to each other which is why we play with so much confidence.”
In game 3 against the Blazers, he played out of his mind in the fourth quarter scoring 16 of his 21 points to help seal the win 120-115. The Nuggets had a steady 10-point lead until Carmelo Anthony got the game within 2 points with just under 5 minutes left to go. Rivers was on fire from long range and went off for four 3-pointers in the quarter to give the Nuggets a 7-point lead with one minute and 20 seconds left to go.
“I couldn’t be happier for the kid,” Malone said of Rivers. “i just told our team that this guy was sitting at home for 2 and a half months waiting for his phone to ring and it wasn’t ringing and that to me is just crazy to even think about. Austin Rivers is a good player. He has played in 45 playoff games prior to this 2021 playoffs and it just worked for him and us that he’s here.”
CJ McCollum then hit a step back jumper got the game within 3 points with 3.9 seconds left. Monté Morris was fouled and missed both of his free throws but Nikola Jokić was there with the tip shot to win the game. Jokić finished with 36 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists.
Denver leads the series 2-1 and took care of business on the road, which has been a strong point for them this series. They’re 22-14 on the road and Malone said the key to that has been to just stick to what they’ve been doing.
“To be honest we don’t prepare any differently,” Malone said. “Our preparation is the same through the regulation and through the postseason. I think to win on the road, we have to have mental toughness, we have to go into somebody else’s gym and have a just us mentality. The defense has to travel and you have to be able to play defense on the road and you can’t beat yourself up with turnovers.”
Portland looked like they had control early after taking an 18-9 lead and outscoring Denver 12-0 in the paint. The Nuggets took a timeout which ignited a 17-2 scoring run. Jokić hit back to back buckets to tie it up 26 and then JaMychal Green hit 8 straight points off the bench to give the Nuggets a 39-30 lead to end the first quarter. Denver as a team went 15 of 25 from the field and 7 of 10 from three while holding Portland to 15 of 23 from the field and 3 of 7 from one range.
Second quarter, Denver’s bench continued to take over outscoring Portland’s bench 15-1. Paul Millsap went off for 5 points in the quarter while Michael Porter Jr scored 9 points to give the Nuggets a 64-59 lead heading into halftime. At the half, Damian Lillard had 20 points for the Blazers and Jokić had 16.
“The bench once again has been a deciding factor in all three games,” Malone said. “Whichever team has had more output, that team has won. So I’m proud of our bench group and providing a lift and spark for us.”
Jokić opened the third quarter with back to back three pointers to put Denver up 75-64 but then the Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic responded with 9-0 run to get within 2 points. The Nuggets then made a few trips to the free throw line and went scoreless for almost 4 minutes but managed to maintain an 84-79 lead.
Fourth quarter, the Nuggets had a 10-point lead until the Blazers scored 8 straight points to tie it up. Carmelo Anthony hit back to back triples to tie the game up at 91 with 6:55 left. That’s when Rivers went off from beyond the arc to lead the Nuggets on a 15-2 run to close out the game.
Facu Campazzo added 11 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists while Porter Jr had 15 points. Gordon finished with 13 points.
The Nuggets look to win game 4 on Saturday against the Blazers. They play at 2pm MST.