Wesley Matthews had missed five of his first six 3-point attempts on Thursday night, but with his Portland Trail Blazers within striking distance after clawing back from a 13-point halftime deficit against the Miami Heat, he found his stroke just in the nick of time:
The shooting guard's pair of last-minute 3-pointers, plus a 1 for 2 split at the free throw line by Portland power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, gave the Blazers just enough to complete their comeback. A final-second Mario Chalmers 3-point attempt caught rim just as time expired, giving the Blazers a 92-90 win over the defending champs before a sellout crowd at the Rose Garden on Thursday.
If Matthews' first late make to tie the game at 88 with 56.9 seconds left was, as TNT color commentator Steve Kerr suggested, the result of beautiful play design by Blazers coach Terry Stotts, his second — which gave Portland the lead for good with 26.9 seconds left — was anything but, as Ben Golliver wrote at Blazersedge:
"The play was for Nic to come off the pick and roll," Matthews [...] told Blazersedge. "They kind of blitzed him. I flashed up out of the corner to give him an outlet. I knew there was 10 seconds when he caught the ball so I had about eight or seven to myself. I took one dribble, I saw Ray back up a little bit, I had just hit one, I was feeling it, I let another one go."
If Batum was adamant that the Blazers won this game rather than stealing it, he was willing to allow that Matthews' second three was a break. Batum let out a long, slow whistle thinking about Matthews' step-back, contested, high-arching shot.
"It's the the type of shot, nooooo, yes! He shot the ball when we had time, we could get a two point shot. Step back ... no ... yes! You better make this one. You better make it." [...]
"If I didn't shoot with confidence, it probably wasn't going in," Matthews said. "That's how this game works. If you believe, you play hard, you compete, you play the right way, you play with confidence, the Basketball Gods look out for you."
Except, y'know, when they don't. But they did on Thursday, and the result was Portland's ninth straight win at the Rose Garden and their 12th in their last 15 games, a run of success that's pushed their record to 20-15, good for seventh in a competitive Western Conference. The Blazers have built that mark, in large part, by winning tight games like Thursday's victory over the Heat and Monday's overtime affair with the Orlando Magic; as Joe Freeman of the Oregonian notes, Portland is now to 11-2 in games decided by six points or less, and they're 8-4 in games in which they've either been tied or trailed by five points or less with five minutes remaining, according to NBA.com's stat tool.
Matthews' third 3-pointer of the game put Portland ahead for good. (Sam Forencich/NBA/Getty Images)Matthews finished with 18 points, 16 of which came in the second half, when Portland outscored Miami 53-38 to wipe away a 13-point halftime deficit. He also spent most of the game defending LeBron James, which is not a very fun job, but did so well enough to keep the reigning regular-season and NBA Finals MVP below 20 points for the first time in 54 games, stretching back to Game 2 of Miami's first round 2011-12 playoff series against the New York Knicks, snapping the league's longest-running such streak.
James cited Matthews' "competitive nature" on the defensive end after the game, but he wouldn't give the Blazers guard full credit; "I missed shots ... I missed four wide open threes, a couple of lay-ups," James told Golliver of Blazersedge. James had 15 points on 6 for 16 shooting, but added 10 rebounds, nine assists, two steals and a block, because this is what an off night for LeBron James looks like now.
With Matthews checking James, Stotts put rangy 6-foot-8 swingman Nicolas Batum on Dwyane Wade, dampening the star Miami shooting guard's offensive production to a relatively muted 18 points on 6 for 18 shooting, including an unsightly 1 for 8 mark in the second half. Batum, on the other hand, continued his strong all-around play, leading Portland with 28 points on 9 for 15 shooting, grabbing seven rebounds and handing out five assists, including the drive-and-kick dish for the Matthews 3 that tied the game at 88. He and Aldridge took the game over midway through the fourth quarter, with Aldridge controlling the glass, Batum wreaking defensive havoc and both of them making determined marches to the free-throw line, going 11 for 13 in the frame to erase a 10-point deficit and put Portland in position to take the game home.
Chris Bosh finished with 29 points, four rebounds, four blocks, two steals and an assist to lead Miami, which makes sense, because Portland is a place where weird stuff thrives. It was the second straight loss for the East-leading Heat, their fourth in their last five road games, and their fifth defeat in eight outings overall.
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