There was nothing more important to the Trail Blazers 92-90 victory over Miami Thursday night than the defensive performance of Wesley Matthews on Heat superstar LeBron James.
Except, perhaps, Matthews clutch back-to-back 3-point shots in the final minute, which turned an already rockin Rose Garden throng into absolute bedlam.
Matthews star couldnt have shone much more brightly in lifting Portland (20-15) to the come-from-behind victory against the defending NBA champions.
The fourth-year shooting guard giving away three inches to the 6-8 James crowded last seasons most valuable player and held him to a season-low 15 points.
Matthews wasnt much help at the other end that is, until the Blazers needed him most. With Miami (23-11) in front 88-85, Matthews knocked down a 3 to tie the score at 88-88 with 56.9 seconds left.
After a Chris Bosh dunk put Miami on top again at 90-88 with 44 seconds to go, Matthews was at it again, coolly nailing a step-back 3 with 26.9 seconds left to put Portland in front 91-90.
Ray Allens wide-open 3-point attempt was off at the other end, and after LaMarcus Aldridge rebounded, he was fouled with 10.4 seconds to play. Aldridge made 1 of 2 at the line to up the advantage 92-90 with 10.4 seconds remaining.
After a Miami timeout, Mario Chalmers bounced another wide-open 3 off the rim at the buzzer, and the game was Portlands.
Its an understatement to say its great to beat Miami, Portland coach Terry Stotts said. I have to hand it to our guys for sticking with it. You (have to) keep competing and playing through and finding way to win games. Thats what we did tonight and what weve been doing most of the season.
It was the 12th win in 15 games and the ninth straight home victory for Portland, which trailed by 12 points early in the fourth quarter before mounting the rally that had the Garden noise level at its highest crescendo at games end.
Were playing well, playing hard, playing together and having fun out there, said Matthews, who scored eight of his 18 points in the fourth quarter. Its been a good combination for us.
Matthews was 5 for 16 from the field before dropping two of the biggest shots of the season near games end.
If I didnt shoot with confidence, they probably werent going in, Matthews said. Thats how this game works. You believe, you play hard, you compete, you play the right way, you play with confidence, and the basketball gods will look out for you.
Matthews took on the challenge of defending James with occasional relief provided by Nicolas Batum with zeal. James finished 6 for 16 from the field, scored only three points in the second half and ended a 54-game streak of scoring 20 or more points, including playoffs, extending to last season.
Matthews made him work, Stotts said. LeBrons a great player. He almost had a triple-double (10 rebounds, nine assists) and we did a good job on him.
Wes didnt give him alleys to the basket. LeBron had four of his points in transition early in the game. (Matthews) did a nice job of taking away angles and forcing him to be a passer and keeping him away from the rim.
I just tried make everything tough for him, Matthews said. Make his catches tough. Make him work on the other end by playing defense. But mostly just make him shoot contested shots.
Portland won despite shooting only .375 from the field. Only once have the Blazers shot that poorly and won .359 in a 101-93 win over Denver on Dec. 20.
You win a game shooting 37 percent especially against a team like Miami it means youre giving effort defensively, rebounding the ball, staying with it, doing a lot of the little things that keep you in the game, Stotts said.
It was an uphill battle all the way for the Blazers, who led all of 3 1/2 minutes all in the first quarter before finally seizing the lead with Matthews second big 3 in the closing seconds.
Miami led 80-68 with eight minutes remaining, then made only three baskets the rest of the way as the Blazers outscored the Heat 24-10 down the stretch.
We did everything we could, and they made big shots at the end, said Miamis Dwyane Wade, who scored 18 points on 6-for-18 shooting. We gave ourselves a chance to win and we had it, but they took it from us at the end.
Well, maybe. Bosh had one of his best shooting games of the season, stepping outside often while hitting 13 of 18 shots from the field en route to a game-high 29 points. Allen added 15 points in 29 minutes off the bench, but Miami which shot .455 from the field and .316 from 3-point range wasnt clicking on all cylinders offensively.
The Heat had a couple of great looks at the end, too, and didnt hit them.
Well take those (last two missed 3-pointers) any day of the week, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. But its a tough loss, no doubt about it. Our guys are disappointed about that. With seven minutes to go, were taking control of the game and gaining some confidence in our defense, and then we slipped a little bit.
But its still a ballgame down to the end, and (the Blazers) made more plays.
Including Matthews ballsy, step-back 3-point game-winner.
The shot he took at the end was crazy, but he made it, so we cant say anything, said Nicolas Batum, the best player on the floor Thursday night with 28 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Batum said the victory was just one of a string of them that go into the great column for the Blazers this season.
Weve had so many good wins, starting with the Lakers on opening night, he said. Denver, San Antonio, Chicago, New York, Memphis ... we start to beat some good teams some great teams, on the road, and at home. Were playing great basketball right now.
We just keep competing, keep playing. We share the ball. If somebody has a better shot, then we give him the ball.
Â The Blazers departed after the game for Oakland and a Saturday night date to face Golden State. Tonight was nice, but it mean nothing if we dont get (Saturdays game), Matthews said.
Â Told Thursdays win was Portlands ninth straight at home, Batum said with a smile, Well make it 10 Sunday. Thats the Blazers next home game, against Oklahoma City.
Â Portland is on its longest home win streak since 2009.
Â Portland is 11-2 in games decided by six points or fewer, winning 10 straight.
Â Aldridge scored 20 points and matched his season high with 15 rebounds for his 15th double-double of the season, but made only 6 of 19 shots from the field.
Â Portland rookie center Meyers Leonard missed his sixth straight game with a sprained ankle. Hes still pretty tender, Stotts said. It will be two weeks on Saturday, and hes not close to coming back.
Â Stotts missed practice Wednesday but looked chipper and healthy Thursday. Feeling much better, he said. It was a 24-hour bug. Wasnt pretty.
Â Miami, which entered the game second in the NBA in 3-point percentage (.394), made only 6 of 19 attempts from beyond the stripe.
Â Spoelstra tossed pre-game plaudits in the direction of several Blazers, including rookie point guard Damian Lillard. His game belies his experience in this league, he said. He plays like a veteran. Hes very poised. He has a savviness about him, and in the fourth quarter, he becomes a different player. Thats what the great ones usually do.
Â Spoelstra, on J.J. Hickson and Aldridge: They complement each other well. Hicksons an explosive player, active around the rim, quick to the ball with his rebounding. You can arguably put Aldridge up against any power forward in this league. You forget his size. Hes a 7-footer with shooting ability over the top.