Matthews, Claver big as Blazers end skid
To Nicolas Batum, it seemed like a couple of calendar replacements -- not just a few weeks -- since the Trail Blazers' last victory.
"I can't remember when we got our last win," the small forward said after Portland's 92-86 triumph over Boston Sunday night at the Rose Garden. "It was after the Super Bowl. Seemed like two years ago."
It actually happened back on Feb. 4, a 100-98 nail-biter over Minnesota nearly three weeks ago. Seven straight losses followed, leaving the Blazers feeling desperate while trying to cling to fading playoff hopes.
That's why Sunday's win was a powerful antidote for Portland (26-30), now on the outside looking in at the postseason. The Blazers are in 10th place in the Western Conference, four games behind eighth-place Houston (31-27) and 2 1/2 games back of the ninth-place Los Angeles Lakers (29-30).
"We haven't lost belief," said Portland's Wesley Matthews, who scored 24 points, including a decisive 3-pointer with 53.6 seconds left. "We still feel we can make the playoffs. We have a long homestand to finish the season. We know what we have to do."
That means winning a good majority of the 26 games left on the schedule. If the Blazers play as they did in Friday's 111-107 loss to the Lakers at Staples Center or Sunday night against Boston (29-27), they have a chance.
"It was good to get a win but more importantly, how we got the win against a good team -- a physical game, with a lot of good performances," Portland coach Terry Stotts said.
Nobody was more clutch or more inspirational than Matthews, who is playing despite injuries to his left ankle and right elbow.
"He was great for us, offensively and defensively," said Portland center J.J. Hickson, who collected 11 points and 11 rebounds for his 30th double-double of the season. "He has been playing hurt, but that's Wes. He has been a warrior for us the whole year.
"Everybody has little bumps and bruises, but he has some real issues going on. It's great to see him out there playing, toughing it out."
Despite playing with a noticeable limp late in the game, Matthews was 8 for 11 from the field, including 5 for 8 from 3-point range, and helped hold Boston shooting guard Courtney Lee to five points in 26 minutes.
"I'm not even close to being 80 percent," Matthews said. "But I'm out there fighting, and my teammates are bringing me along. They're continuing to support me.
"I'm playing for them, for the fans, for this franchise, because we have something special here."
All five starters scored in double figures for the Trail Blazers, including Batum with 18 points, LaMarcus Aldridge with 16 and Damian Lillard with 12.
Paul Pierce totaled 23 points, eight assists and seven rebounds for the Celtics, who shot only .424 from the field, including .154 (2 for 13) from 3-point range.
"We played great team defense," Hickson said. "We were flying around out there. When we play like that, we're tough to beat."
Boston was fortunate to trail only 49-42 at the half. The Celtics shot .378 while the Blazers fired at a .514 clip through intermission. Portland hurt its cause, though, with 10 first-half turnovers.
The Blazers held an 82-74 lead with 5:48 to play, but Boston tied the game at 86-86 on Kevin Garnett's driving layup.
Lillard converted a three-point play after a driving layup to give Portland an 89-86 edge with 1:32 remaining. Matthews followed with the trey that broke the Celtics' back.
"It was one of those 'my bad' games," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "We had so many 'my faults' when we just lost sight of (Blazers while playing defense).
"We didn't finish any quarter well. Every quarter, (the Blazers) made a run. It was a getable game, but give them credit. They made some big shots."
None bigger than Matthews' dagger inside the final minute, a step-back 3.
"God bless him," Rivers said. "He's done it all year. Wes is a smart player. He slides to the right area and makes shots."
Matthews' presence in the Portland lineup was every bit as important.
"We're in the game against the Lakers because he is back, and we win this one because he is back," Stotts said. "Not to say we couldn't have won it without him, but he is an instrumental part of what we've done to be successful."
On Sunday night, so, too, was Victor Claver. The 6-9 rookie small forward from Spain, pressed into more playing time at power forward with Aldridge's foul trouble, responded with a season-high 10 rebounds to go with four points and two big steals.
"Vic has my vote for player of the game," Matthews offered.
Batum seconded that notion, noticing the hubbub around Claver's locker.
"I was glad when all you guys (reporters) go see him and give him credit," Batum said. "Wes made the biggest shot for us, but Victor, he did a great job tonight. He rebounded, he played good defense and there are some things he did that don't show up on the stat sheet."
"It might have been his best game," Stotts said. "He was a plus-14 when he was on the court. A lot of good reads and tough defense."
Claver, who entered the night averaging 2.5 points and 2.1 rebounds while shooting .352 from the field, played 20 minutes, most of them out of position. Does he like to play power forward?
"I like to play," he said with a smile. "It's something I've done since I played in Spain -- to change position sometimes. I tried to do my best to give energy to the team. I was trying to catch (rebounds), and I was trying to play good defense."
NOTES -- Portland's next action is at home Wednesday night against Denver. Boston had won six in a row against Portland dating to December 2008. There were plenty of Boston supporters among the sellout crowd of 20,484. "I didn't know we had this many Celtic fans in Portland," Stotts said. "That did surprise me." Lillard was only 5 for 16 from the field, including 0 for 5 from 3-point range. The rookie had six rebounds and six assists and converted the critical 3-point play down the stretch, however. "With the amount of minutes he has played, he's not a rookie anymore," Stotts said. "He's out there to make plays." Point guard Eric Maynor, acquired Thursday in a deal with Oklahoma City, made his Portland debut, scoring two points on 1-for-5 shooting with three assists in 15 minutes. "His shots didn't go, but he played with a lot of confidence, and he was solid defensively," Stotts said. "For the first time out there, it was good."
Hickson, on ending the losing streak: "It's in the back of your mind, but you don't want to put pressure on yourself. We wanted to win in front of the home crowd, and it started on the defensive end." Portland won the rebound battle 47-36 Hickson ranks fourth in the NBA in double-doubles behind Golden State's David Lee, Memphis' Zach Randolph and Orlando's Nikola Vucevic. Hickson shot 4 for 8, extending his franchise-record streak of consecutive games shooting 50 percent or better to 19 games. Boston's bench combined on 7-for-26 shooting. Portland finished with 16 turnovers.