BOSTON (CBS) – Heading in to Wednesday night’s game against the New Orleans Hornets, Doc Rivers is conflicted.
He’ll be focused on the game as the Celtics head coach, but in the back of his mind, he’ll also be watching it as a father.
That’s where the headache begins for Doc.
Wednesday night will be the first time Rivers will coach against his son, Austin, whom the Hornets selected 10th overall out of Duke in June’s NBA Draft. While Doc was full of joy to share that moment with his son, their first game against each other will be a little different.
“I’m actually not,” Rivers said when asked if he was excited to face Austin. “I don’t even know what I’m looking forward to. It’s not like he’s playing a ton anyways. As far as him and being on the floor, I still don’t know how I feel about it.”
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“I always thought he had a shot of being in the league but I never thought about coaching against him,” Doc continued. “You never think about that until he gets drafted, and then it’s ‘wow, I’m going against my son.’ Not literally; I’ll be in a suit and tie, so I can’t do anything. I’ll be glad when the game is over, I can put it that way.”
Many members of the Rivers family will be at the Garden on Wednesday, but Doc said they’ll all be rooting for Austin.
“My rooting days are over,” Doc said with a chuckle. “When Austin is not playing, they’re Celtics fans. When Austin is playing, they’re Hornets fans. The only way I can change the tide is if he doesn’t play. Then they’ll cheer for me.”
Marred in a bit of a slump, Austin has seen his playing time decrease recently. He played just five minutes in New Orleans’ 111-99 win over the 76ers in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, and has seen the floor for just 14 minutes in his last three games. For the season, Austin is averaging just 6.2 points per game, and is shooting just 12.5-percent from the floor for the month of January.
“He’s just up and down. Offensively, he’s not as aggressive as he should be, or as he was,” Rivers said of his son’s current slump. “That’s typical when you’re a rookie. It’s almost like our team earlier in the year, when I said we can’t be athletic if we’re thinking so much.”
While Doc said he talks to his son often, giving him advice as he goes through his rookie-season lumps, one thing he doesn’t do is coach him.
“I just tell him to stay aggressive; keep playing the game and keep learning and listening. I’m more of his parent,” explained Doc. “When he’s doing well I try to knock him down, when he’s struggling I try to boost him up. I don’t coach him, I don’t see him every day so I don’t think I’m qualified.”
And just because Austin is struggling, that doesn’t mean the Celtics will go easy on the 20-year-old Rivers on Wednesday night. Doc said he’ll have dynamic-defender Avery Bradley covering his son, and Paul Pierce knows not to take the young Rivers lightly. The Celtics captain already learned that lesson years ago.
“No, no,” Pierce said at Tuesday’s practice. “He was out to get me as a high school player, so I’m ready for him.”
“I knew he would be an NBA player,” continued Pierce. “I had a chance to play him 1-on-1 when he was in the 10th grade or something… I took him lightly.”
While Pierce got a small sampling of what a young Austin brought to the floor, Doc saw it daily. Though once Austin beat him on the court, there weren’t many more father-son showdowns.
“It wasn’t a good day,” Doc said. “I think he was a freshman. He beat me bad. I remember beating him and then we had another game, I want to say it was 10-1 – I got the ball once. Then I played him one more time because I thought it was a fluke, and he beat me again.”
After that, Doc said he walked away from the on-court meetings.
“I was smart,” he laughed.
While Rivers hopes for the best for his son, he wants his Celtics to keep rolling. Winners of six straight, he doesn’t want to see that streak come to end against anyone. The best case scenario would be a Celtics win, but a good performance by Austin.
“He can have a lot of good games. He can have 80 good games, but there’s two I don’t need him to play that well,” said Doc.
But in the end, when their 48-minute on-court clash is over, it will be back to being family for the Rivers’.
“He’s still your son. He’s going to be my son during the game, after the game, before the game. None of that’s going to change, you know?” said Doc. “But tomorrow we’ll probably not talk about our game plan or their game plan. I guarantee you I won’t do that.”