According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, Austin Rivers plans to return for game 5 of the Clippers’ first-round series against the Utah Jazz. Rivers, who is recovering from a hamstring strain, missed the final two weeks of the regular season and all four of the Clippers’ games in the NBA Playoffs.
Rivers was a big part of the Clippers’ rotation this season, averaging 12 points, 2.8 assists, 2.2 rebounds and 0.7 steals in 27.8 minutes per game while shooting 44.2% from the field, 37.1% from deep, and 69.1% from the foul line—career highs in every category. The 24-year-old son of Clippers coach Doc Rivers is the only player in the Clippers’ rotation under 25 years old.
The Clippers have turned to Rivers throughout the season as a key option at multiple positions. He has started games at point guard in place of Chris Paul, at shooting guard in place of J.J. Redick, and at small forward when Blake Griffin was injured and Luc Mbah a Moute slid to the power forward position. Rivers’ positional versatility defensively and his ability to play both on and off the ball offensively have made him an ideal flex play for Doc Rivers throughout the season.
In his much-anticipated return, Rivers will provide the Clippers with another option in a few different areas where they have struggled early in the series. With both J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford struggling (though Crawford broke out in a spectacular game 4 performance), Rivers is L.A.’s best defensive option at shooting guard, and a more aggressive option attacking the rim than either of his counterparts. Redick is scoring just 7.8 points per game in this series on 34.5% shooting from the field and 26.7% from deep, while turning the ball over 2.5 times per game. Crawford was shooting 32.4% from the field and was 0-11 from beyond the arc before a breakout game 4 that saw him shoot 9-13 from the field and 5-7 from deep to score 25 points off of the bench.
While Raymond Felton has had three strong games after a shaky opener, Rivers also provides the Clippers with an option at backup point guard if Felton is not sufficiently spacing the floor. Perhaps most importantly, Rivers is the Clippers’ second-most reliable wing defender behind Mbah a Moute. The Clippers have struggled to contain Utah’s versatile array of perimeter scorers, and while Austin probably doesn’t have the size to slow down Joe Johnson, he gives the Clippers another option against Gordon Hayward, freeing Luc Mbah a Moute to slow down Johnson for stretches.