It was around the time when Doc Rivers lost the final two games of one-on-one to his son Austin. The games weren’t very close. The 48-year-old Doc thought it would be another routine spanking of his high school freshman, who was improving but hardly a threat to the old man.
Austin proved not only to be a threat but a prospect. Doc already had watched oldest son Jeremiah land a Division 1 scholarship with Georgetown, but those around the Celtics coach said Austin was special. Austin wanted to beat his dad badly. He had an arrogance about him. He wasn’t intimidated by challenges.
During an organized Under Armour outdoor game before his freshman season at Duke, featuring NBA point guards John Wall and Brandon Jennings, Austin walked away convinced he could play in the NBA, feeling he got the better of Jennings. Austin was irritated that the game turned into a no-defense dunk show. He wanted to ball.
It’s that competitiveness that has taken him from being Doc’s middle son, to a phenom at Winter Park (Fla.) High School, to an impressive freshman season at Duke, and to the NBA, where he will stare the old man in the face for the first time since that final one-on-one matchup in Orlando.
Austin and the New Orleans Hornets will take on Doc’s Celtics Wednesday night at TD Garden, marking the fourth time an NBA coach has opposed his son.
Doc has neither dreaded nor anticipated this. He’s uncomfortable with the prospect of watching his son get pressed by Avery Bradley. It has been a difficult rookie season for Austin, who already has experienced his share of peaks and lows, and is currently in a bit of a skid.
After Tuesday night’s 111-99 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, Austin has scored only 10 points in his last eight games, going scoreless in four of the last five. He was thinking more about his own game than facing his father.
“You can’t think about all that stuff,” Austin told the The Times-Picayune of New Orleans. “I personally haven’t played well the past four or five games, so that’s all I’m thinking about is trying to play hard and seeing what happens.
“I don’t know what his thought process is going to be in that game because he’s never been in that situation, nor I. It’s going to be new for both of us. I don’t know what he’s going to say.
“It’s all competitive. He loves me and I love him. You know that saying, that there are no friends on the court, that’s what he taught me. And that will be the case that night.”
Doc’s wife Kris, daughter Callie, and son Jeremiah all plan to attend the game. Doc has been uncomfortable discussing the topic since Austin was drafted and the schedule was released.
“It’s a different dynamic,” said Doc. “My wife and some of the kids are coming in and all these people want to come into the game and I don’t even know how to deal with that.
“We talk every day. He’s going to be my son during the game, after the game, before the game. It’s just a strange thing. It doesn’t happen often, and as a father, it’s nice to see him. The only drawback of him being in the NBA is I haven’t been to a game, and I miss that, to be honest.”
While Doc jokingly says the rest of the family is supporting Austin and there will be no dinner if there are any hard fouls on him, Jeremiah said the family will be split in its allegiances.
“Everyone in the family is extremely competitive, and my brothers and my dad are on the same level,” said Jeremiah, who is with Maine of the NBADL but is on the injured list as he recovers from ankle surgery. “I’m just interested to see how it is going to go.
“It’s a special thing. Obviously, Austin has worked for everything he’s got, as well as my dad, to compete at the highest level. It’s a blessing.
“And let me put it this way. My mom wants my dad’s team to win but she wants Austin to do great. She’s like, my dad’s the one paying the bills, not Austin. We want Austin to play fantastic, obviously.”
The unexpected difficulty surrounding this matchup is Austin’s recent on-court struggles. He was supposed to be one of the Hornets’ rookie cornerstones, but the emergence of third-year guard Greivis Vasquez, who is a candidate for Most Improved Player, along with the return of Eric Gordon from knee surgery have cut into Austin’s playing time.
And the fact that Austin plays for Doc’s close friend Monty Williams doesn’t help.
“He’s been up and down this year,” said Doc. “He started out struggling. He had a great stretch, and he’s struggling right now.
“So there’s games he plays, games he doesn’t play, so I think it’s all a process of learning. His habits, there’s just so much to go into playing in the NBA. It’s funny, I tell people that all the time and they talk about the NBA and I said the NBA is so hard, it’s such a hard league.
“I think people have no idea. These college kids come in and think they’re prepared, and they’re not, and so I think he’s learning all that but he loves it. He enjoys it.
“It’s good [that he plays for Williams], but it doesn’t matter in another way. The good part is I know Monty, but I don’t ever call Monty about it. In some ways I don’t like it, because I don’t talk to Monty as much. With all my kids, I make a conscious choice to stay away from the coach.”
Doc often says that Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and even Paul Pierce detected before he did that Austin was a professional prospect. This moment is not lost on him.
“That’s amazing,” he said. “That’s what every father dreams.
“Whenever your kid reaches a dream, it’s no better dream, and to be that close to it will be pretty cool for me.”