Matthews’ clutch play provides inspiration

Portland guard's grit helps pave way to Blazers' victory

By Micah Rice, Columbian Sports Editor

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PORTLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers needed a spark for much of Sunday’s 123-120 overtime win over Houston.

What ignited the Blazers showed in Wesley Matthews’ floor burns.

The most scintillating series of the 2014 NBA playoffs might have been decided by the blue-collar work of the Portland guard.

His dives, his scrappiness and infectious hustle are big reasons the Blazers are one victory from their first playoff series triumph in 14 years.

“Wes has a big heart,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “He was taking criticism for his offense in the first three games, but his defense has been solid. … He came out determined and made plays at both ends. That’s what Wes does.”

Fittingly, Matthews’ steal near midcourt in the waning seconds Sunday capped a game filled with peaks and valleys for the Blazers.

It was his fourth takeaway of the game — and not the only one in a crucial moment.

Mo Williams’ 3-pointer that put the Blazers ahead 105-104 with 18.2 seconds left in regulation came after Matthews poked the ball out of a scrum to Damian Lillard.

With six minutes to play, Lillard hit a 3-pointer to knot the game at 94 after the Blazers had trailed since the first quarter. It came after Matthews threw his body toward a loose ball that Lillard eventually corralled.

“That’s Wes,” Lillard said. “He competes as hard as anybody on both ends of the floor.”

Matthews entered Game 4 shooting 35 percent and averaging 10.7 points a game, the lowest of any Portland starter. But while shooting can run hot and cold, Matthews wasn’t going to let his defense wane while guarding James Harden, Houston’s leading scorer.

“I haven’t been playing as well as I wanted to on both ends of the court,” Matthews said. “And I just knew to stay with it, stay with the toughness on defense and the offense will come.”

The player known as Ironman might have made the difference in this series with his iron will.