“You continue to tell yourself, ‘You can do this, you can do this, you can do this, you can do this,’ for nights like this,” said Rivers, who had the most points by a Rockets reserve since Sleepy Floyd in 1991. “I believe I’m a premier scorer.
“That’s just how I feel, but I’m on a team where that’s not required of me every night. I play with the best scorer in the NBA, and I play with the other one of the best scorers in the NBA, in Russell Westbrook and James Harden. So you’ve got to play a role and buy in. That’s what winning basketball is, and that’s what I’m a part of, so that’s what I do. But make no mistake, I know I can score the ball. When you get in that zone, there’s nothing better than that. It’s just different. Man, it was a fun, fun night.”
Rivers, who entered the night averaging 8.4 points per game this season, played a much more prominent offensive role than usual due to Westbrook (thigh contusion) and Eric Gordon (sprained ankle) sitting out against the Kings. The Rockets are optimistic both will be able to return this week, according to coach Mike D’Antoni.
In the meantime, Rivers enjoyed having the ball in his hands much more often than he has become accustomed to. He was 14-of-20 from the floor, 6-of-11 from 3-point range and 7-of-8 from the free throw line in 33 minutes.
“He was just in attack mode,” said Harden, who had 32 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. “He’s been going in the morning to the gym, shooting and working on his jump shot, so that kind of gave him his confidence. Obviously with no Russ and no Eric, he needed to be a little bit more aggressive. He did that.”
Rivers, an eight-year veteran with a career scoring average of 9.1 points per game, understands that some might scoff at his belief that he is an elite scorer. However, he considers that confidence a job requirement.
“I know that sounds funny, but that’s just the way you have to feel,” Rivers said. “Whether you’re 0-for-6 or 6-for-6, 8-for-8, it doesn’t matter. I don’t think you get to this level by thinking that someone can guard you individually. I’m obviously a one-on-one player. I always feel like I have a chance to score on anybody. Whether people see that or not, that’s on them, but I know how I feel.”
Rivers had 19 points in the first half — a total he exceeded in only two previous games this season — to help Houston climb out of an early, 13-point deficit. With the Rockets leading comfortably, Rivers scored 18 points in the fourth quarter.
With his teammates on the bench loudly rooting for him, Rivers scored 11 points in the final 4:12. He acknowledged he knew how close he was to his previous career high of 38 points — set in an LA Clippers loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Dec. 23, 2017 — when he checked back into the game and that he was determined to achieve a new personal best.
“I was gonna go get it,” Rivers said. “But I still wanted to do it still the right way. I didn’t want to just come down and jack anything. I jacked a couple of shots, but this is why it’s fun to play on this team. You’ve got guys encouraging it. They were giving me the ball. It’s not like I was chasing it, taking it. You had guys aware of this, and it was the last couple of minutes of the game. The whole game was natural, just flowing. That’s the best way to have a night like tonight.”