Last December, with the Rockets facing a spate of injuries, GM Daryl Morey signed Houston native Gerald Green, who had been at home waiting to sign on with a team since the summer. Less than a week later, he scored 27 points in a win over Orlando and solidified himself as a fixture in the Rockets lineup.
This December, with Chris Paul dealing with a hamstring injury and Brandon Knight still playing his way back into shape, Morey signed Austin Rivers, who had just been released from the Suns after being acquired from the Wizards. On Christmas Day, Rivers scored 8 of his 10 points in the fourth quarter in an impressive win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in front of a national TV audience.
Because Rivers is young and has the appropriate skillset (solid distance shooter with a penchant for defense), he seems to be yet another timely signing for the Rockets midseason, particularly given Paul's injury during an impressive run of eight wins in their last nine games.
Still, the Rockets needed huge performances from James Harden (41 points) and Clint Capela (23 rebounds) to knock off the three-seeded Thunder and move the team into seventh in the West. But, the contribution from Rivers is significant considering he signed with the team this weekend and there was some bad blood between he and the Rockets last season.
For those who have forgotten (or never knew), after a game in Los Angeles against the Clippers that got rather feisty, a contingent of Rockets including Paul and Trevor Ariza (one of the guys sent to Washington in exchange for Rivers a week ago by Phoenix, ironically) allegedly sneaked through some secret tunnels to confront Clippers players including Rivers. Nothing happened, but suspensions ensued and it became the stuff of legend.
Rivers and Paul are friends who work out together, so clearly there are no personal issues between them, but it makes him joining the Rockets and performing so well in his first game all the more eye opening.
Even in the first half, Rivers looked rather comfortable on the floor. His game translates well to the Rockets scheme and he doesn't need to have the ball in his hands or get tons of shots to be happy. Add to that his solid defensive skills and he makes for a good fit in Houston, particularly with Paul out of the lineup. And when Paul returns, especially if Knight can make more progress getting into shape, what had been a source of concern could be a position of strength.
On December 13, we wrote that the next 10 games could make or break the Rockets season. Since then, they are 6-1, their only loss coming in Miami the night Paul suffered his injury. Boston comes to town Thursday before games against the miserable Pelicans and Grizzlies, both in Toyota Center. If they take even two of those three, that would be 8-2 in those 10 games, half of them without their starting point guard and four with Rivers in the fold.
Morey's track record for midseason acquisitions the last couple of years is remarkable considering neither came via a trade. In both cases, it couldn't have come at a better time, but this season, the addition of Rivers may have even greater impacts than Green did last year. It certainly made a difference on Tuesday.