PHILADELPHIA – Austin Rivers started it.
He always does.
As one of several practical jokers on the Clippers, Rivers will give it to just about everyone on the team from Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to Jordan Hamilton and C.J. Wilcox. Yes, even Doc Rivers, his dad, who happens to be the head coach and president of basketball operations, will get it too from time to time.
But on Friday, Griffin gave it back to Rivers and Matt Barnes was more than happy to capture it on his iPhone and turn it into a viral video.
After the team went through shootaround at the Wells Fargo Center, Griffin grabbed the ball and imitated Rivers perfectly. He waved off teammates as he dribbled the ball and drove to the lane and threw up a floater that went over the basket.
What wasn’t captured by Barnes was Rivers imitating Griffin first.
“I started it,” Rivers said. “I made fun of him. I made fun of Blake, how he comes down and dribbles through his legs sometimes and he’ll do that little Eurostep. And then he was like, ‘Do you want to see Austin Rivers moves?’ and then Matt pulled out his camera. If people can’t understand that was a joke, then I can’t help them. They have to be smarter than that. I mean, come on. You really think they’re going to hurt my feelings?”
It didn’t take Rivers long to get Barnes and Griffin back, posting a photo on Instagram of Barnes side by side next to Steve-O from “Jackass” and red-headed boxer Canelo Alvarez, who bears a resemblance to Griffin. It’s the kind of ribbing that goes on constantly in the team’s infamous group text, usually started by an inappropriate joke from Barnes before or after a game to lighten the team up.
“It’s just fun,” Barnes said. “You have to have fun. There’s a time to be serious and there’s a time to have fun and we definitely take advantage of having fun when the time presents itself. It’s just a very loose atmosphere. We don’t want to take ourselves too serious. This is just a close knit group. We joke on each other, from Chris to Blake, anybody can get it. We make fun of Doc. It’s just a fun atmosphere.
“We all dish it out and we all take it,” Blake Griffin said. “It was just [Austin’s] turn.”
Austin Rivers laughed when he saw many on Twitter and other web sites take Griffin’s impersonation the wrong way.
“I was in the video when they did it,” he said. “Someone said, ‘Did you see the video?’ I was like, ‘Dude, you understand I’m there, I’m practicing, I watched him do it. … To go at each other like that, you have to be close enough to feel comfortable doing it. If you think he was genuinely trying to do that to hurt my feelings, first off, it wouldn’t have hurt my feelings, second off, after that he goes, ‘Man, I don’t know how that s--- goes in, but it goes in’ but [Barnes] cut that, so now people think it’s serious, or some people do. It was a joke.
One of the reasons Doc Rivers made the move to bring Austin to the team was the Clippers needed to improve the team’s backup point guard position after Jordan Farmar struggled in that role earlier in the season. He also didn’t like the team’s chemistry in the locker room. While he was a little uneasy initially about trading for his son, he knew Austin would be able to improve both.
“It’s not like we traded for Chris Paul,” Doc Rivers said about the deal that brought Austin to the team for Reggie Bullock and Chris Douglas-Roberts. “We looked at it in two ways -- now and in the future. He’s 22. The fact you can get a 22 year old guy that was a high draft pick to us was a good move, and then in the now, obviously his offense is streaky to me and it’s going up and down. But we’re looking at size. We just needed more size in the backcourt. So that’s helped us.”
Rivers has averaged 7.2 points, 1.7 assists and 1.9 rebounds in 19.3 minutes off the bench for the Clippers since being traded on Jan. 16. He has scored over 20 points three times, most recently on Wednesday against the New York Knicks where he was nine for 10 after hitting his first nine shots.
“I’m just playing,” Rivers said. “I'm playing more freely now and we feel like we’re better than any second unit in the league. We just go out there and try to push things and we’re getting better. We’ll keep working and keep getting better every day.”
As far as the practical jokes, don’t expect Friday to be the end of the ribbing on social media between Rivers and Barnes. If their interaction in the locker room is any indication, it might just be the beginning.
“I have way more ammo, so if Matt and them want to keep this going,” Rivers said, smiling. “Blake said he’s done, me and Blake are at peace, but when you start something like with Matt, he just doesn’t stop, so I went and got way more ammo and I said, ‘Focus on the game. Tomorrow, if you want to go at it, we can.’”