Looking at the play of Wesley Matthews during the 2014 NBA playoffs, it’s unbelievable to fathom that this man was passed over by every team in the 2009 NBA Draft. The efforts of Matthews on both sides of the floor have led to nothing but praise for the 5th year guard throughout the first four games in the Portland Trail Blazers’ playoff series with the Houston Rockets. Matthews’ defensive efforts on perennial All-Star, and arguably the best Shooting Guard in the NBA, James Harden has been a defining factor for the current 3-2 series lead over the favored Rockets that the Blazers currently possess.
The stifling defense of Matthews has led Harden to shooting 41/118 across all four games so far, and a field goal percentage of 34.7% that nobody defined as a “superstar” by his peers should carry (especially when his regular season was a more respectable 45.6% from the field). However; the defensive performance from Matthews has unfortunately snuck under the radar, with Harden’s high-profile dominating the media headlines due to his usual inability to show up for big games. However, Harden’s lack of the “clutch” gene on a team labelled as “clutch city,” shouldn’t take any precedence over Matthews and his terrific series to date.
Matthews’ biggest asset isn’t his defense, it’s his insane hustle plays. He isn’t afraid of getting a hit, or diving for a loose ball or even competing with the biggest Goliath of them all, Dwight Howard. Game Four in the current Houston vs. Portland series gives the average fan a great indication of how Matthews makes the Blazers better without touching the box score.
First he was the one who dived onto the ball to force a turnover at the end of the fourth quarter, that ended up in a Mo Williams three which eventually put the game into overtime. Secondly, at the start of overtime he drew the ball off Howard, after wrestling on the hardwood, something that left Howard in total dismay. Then, to prevent Houston from putting up an attempt to draw another over-time, Matthews pushed the ball out of Patrick Beverley‘s hands, drawing an emotional win.
“I mean, that’s Wes,’’“He competes as hard as anybody in this league on both ends of the floor and he’s matched up against one of the toughest offensive players in this league in James Harden, and every possession he is coming back at him. Having Wes on our team is huge, and he was definitely one of the main reasons we won.’’
This playoff series for Matthews has been nothing out of the ordinary box-score wise. He’s still averaging his 16 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1 assist per game. He’s been the Blazer spark, however, which is so much more important than what is seen on a basic level. Those post-moves on the defensively-inept James Harden, the hustle on the loose ball, the suffocating defense, the chest-pumping. No matter the situation, Matthews has found a way to bring his team back into game-relevancy.
“The only recognition and acclaim I care about is the people I go to work for and go to bat for,’’“All that stuff outside of here — the ESPN, the TNT, the statisticians, top 100 players, all that – it doesn’t matter to me. I’m not playing for an ESPN writer, or an ESPN announcer. I play for everybody in here; that’s all I need.’’
– Wesley Matthews via Jason Quick, OregonLive
Why his play for such a long period of time has remained unheralded is a mystery to me. Matthews provides a level of consistency that not many other players possess in their repertoire. He does everything and more that you’d want out of your starting Shooting Guard, offense, defense, the lot. He played off that once-excessive contract he got after his rookie year, and is now making his largest ever indent into the hearts of NBA fans thanks to this playoff campaign. He has given the Blazers the will necessary to proceed pass the first round for the first time since 2000.
Matthews is the most underrated player in the NBA, but not for long.