Houston Rockets: 3 takeaways from Christmas win over Thunder

Photo by Jeff Haynes/Getty Images
Photo by Jeff Haynes/Getty Images /
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Photo by Jeff Haynes/Getty Images
Photo by Jeff Haynes/Getty Images /

2. Austin Rivers comes through in the clutch

In spite of having just a couple of practices to get ingrained within a new system, Austin Rivers would find a way to supply the Rockets with a much-needed spark, as the 26-year-old combo guard proved to be the most valuable gift that Houston received over the holiday season.

Rivers — who signed with the Rockets just three days ago — contributed mightily off the bench in his debut, canning several spot-up 3-pointers from the wing and playing impressive on-ball defense in the clutch to help Houston close things out down the stretch.


"“He made some timely shots and big plays,” Harden said told Red Nation Hoops‘ Salman Ali when summarizing Rivers’ first official outing with Houston. “Some great defense…he fits in well with what we’re doing.”"

Although the final box score will show that Rivers only mustered just 10 points and two rebounds on the night, the former Duke star’s impact on the floor went far beyond his numbers, as the 6’4″, 200-pound guard managed to individually defend Russell Westbrook better than any other Rockets player while on the floor.

Throughout the second half, Rivers continuously pestered Westbrook on defense, pressuring him all the way up half court and working relentlessly to close his air space on shots. He limited the seven-time All-Star to just seven points, four rebounds and three assists in the second half, and only a single point in the fourth quarter after the former MVP scored 14 of his 21 points in the first half.

Should Rivers continue to produce the following results over the next several games, there is a strong chance that Houston could catapult itself further up the standings. His ability to hit big-time shots, combined with his willingness to defend and direct the offense, can help head coach Mike D’Antoni to keep the likes of Harden, Eric Gordon and Chris Paul fresh as the year goes along.