Matthews Finds His Game On Both Ends Of The Floor In Game 4

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By KEVIN HUDSON

Wesley Matthews opened the Portland Trailblazers playoff series against the Houston Rockets with an 18-point, 3-steal performance in the team’s game one victory.

He scored nine points in a game two win for Portland, then just five points in a game three defeat at the Moda Center. Something wasn’t clicking with his game and criticism was beginning to mount.

Matthews silenced those critics with his performance in Portland’s 123-120 overtime victory at the Moda Center Sunday, tallying 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting while notching four rebounds, four steals and three assists to help push the Trailblazers series lead to 3-1.

While some might be tempted to gloat after this sort of performance, especially when combined with the crucial hustle plays he contributed down the stretch, Matthews was quick to downplay the numbers.

“If I don’t score a point but I play great defense and we win, it’s cool,” he said. “That’s all I want to do, just make it tough for whoever it is that I’m guarding.”

It’s that attitude that has endeared Matthews to his coach and his teammates, who believed he would turn it around despite two off performances.

“Wes has a big heart,” said Portland coach Terry Stotts. “He was taking criticism for his offense in the first three games. His defense has been as solid every game and I don’t think any of us were concerned about his offense but he came out determined, making plays at both ends, and that’s what Wes does.”

What Wes also does is get physical. Several times Sunday he dove to the floor, threw himself into the scrum for a loose ball, or battled through a screen to stay with his man. At one point in the second half he even went to the floor and wrestled the ball away from the much larger Dwight Howard.

Asked in the locker room after the game if he fed off the physical nature of his role in these hard-fought playoff games, Matthews paused, then laughed.

“Yeah, a little bit,” he admitted with a grin. “But that’s the playoffs, you know, that’s what it’s going to be. … I’m not going to shy away from anybody in any moment or any situation.”

Matthews acknowledged disappointment with his performances in game’s two and three, but said that if he began by concentrating on his defense, he knew he could put together the kind of performance he had Sunday.

“I haven’t been playing as well as I wanted to on both ends of the court,” he said. “I just knew to stay with the intensity, stay with the toughness on defense and the offense would come, and it did and we were able to win.”

And while that win puts the team just one victory away from advancing out of the first round for the first time since 2000, Matthews isn’t looking past tomorrow, much less Wednesday’s game five.

“We gotta get to Monday first,” he said, shaking his head as he sat, clearly exhausted, in front of his locker. “Rest tomorrow and get a little bit better and do it again. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re up 3-1 but that doesn’t mean anything, that doesn’t seal anything. It’s the first to four.”