Matthews’ Fire Puts Out Harden’s Flame

HOUSTON — Wesley Matthews could only have looked more alone on an island if he’d been trying to crack open coconuts and build a raft.

There was the clock running down in a tie game and here was James Harden — the NBA’s opening week version of a five-alarm fire — standing in front of him with the ball in his hands.

“You’re in the gym by yourself and you’re counting down ‘5-4-3…,’ ” Matthews said. “Once the clock hit four seconds, there was gonna be no screen coming. It was just gonna be me and him. He was left hand dominant so I tried to jump to that side and he had the ball loose out there.”

Loose enough for Matthews to strip the ball away and send the game into overtime, where his Blazers ran off to a 95-85 win.

It had been quite an eye-popping start to his Houston incarnation for Harden, scoring 37 and 45 points in his first two games with his new team, putting up numbers that were Chamberlainesque.

But not a bad start to the season for Matthews either, who’d already drawn defensive assignments against Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.

Then came Harden and one of those headline-grabbing matchups that could have a guy feeling inspired.

“Of course it did,” Matthews said, pointing to his right. “We got this guy (LaMarcus Aldridge) gassing me up. Just talking. Just challenging me.”

Matthews had plenty of help all night long from the Blazers big men who almost always had his back. Still, most of the credit goes to the fourth-year guard. He harassed Harden. He pushed him. He jostled him. He stayed in front of him. He made him work like a day laborer and that resulted in so many of those drives and would-be layups rolling off the rim.

While Harden finished with a team-high 24 points, he shot just 8-for-24 from the field and missed 13 of the 15 shots he took after the 3:56 mark of the second quarter.

It is tiring work to pile up the mountain of points that Harden did in his first two games. But it was more than just raw fatigue that set in and eventually had the new face of the Rockets’ franchise sagging and hanging longer than his beard by the time it was over.

It was Matthews, the firehose that doused Harden’s inferno.

“I look at it as an opportunity to show,” he said. “Because anytime that I’m not on the All-Defensive Team, that just pisses me off. I’m seeing all these other guys get in, and I’m not taking anything away from them, but it pisses me off.

“I’m checking the best player every single night, rarely giving up 50 percent shooting, holding them under their average for the most part. I feel like I should get credit for it. Now I’m taking this on myself not only to showcase what I can do on the offensive end, which I feel I’m doing. But I’m a complete two-guard and the sky’s the limit for me.”

While he sank his teeth into Harden at one end, Matthews also took a return pass from Aldridge and nailed the 3-pointer that tied the game at 81-all with 59.8 seconds left in regular, eventually setting up the 1-on-1 showdown.

After he’d made the stop, Matthews delivered a message to Harden: “Not today.”

They came into the league in the same 2009 draft class and became friends when they played together in the Rookie-Sophomore game at All-Star Weekend.

“He’s a cool dude,” Matthews said. “But when it’s tip-off time, there ain’t no friends out there.”

If a Portland team that is once more trying to remake itself in the post-Brandon Roy and Greg Oden era is to have real success this season, it must rise up in games such as this one against the likes of a Rockets club that it could be battling for position over the next sixth months for a lower rung on the playoff ladder. It’s going to take another All-Star season from Aldridge, a blossoming of Nicolas Batum and more of the stout stuff that was shown by rookie point guard Damian Lillard. And it’s going to take Matthews planting his defensive flag.

“Wes is a warrior,” said Blazers coach Terry Stotts. “He took a challenge on James Harden. He was physical, he was tenacious. The last stop was about pride and character.”

It was also about following the advice of one of his very first — and maybe most influential — coaches.

“Gotta give that credit to my mom,” Matthews said. “Way, way back when I was like six to 13 years old playing AAU, I was trying to get recruited for college. My mom said the best way to get seen is to guard the best player. Guard the other team’s best player, because all the college coaches are watching him. If you shut him down, they got to say, ‘Damn, he only has five points. Who’s guarding him?’ Well, it was me.”

Just the way Mom drew it up.


  1. RedRising says:

    As a Houston fan i have to say i don’t think we deserved to win the game anyway, the way we dominated the boards (especially offensively) but couldn’t convert…you just wont win many games missing that many in close shots. Yes harden would have been tired, especially carrying the offense and yes there was probably a foul that coouuld have been given but honestly i was more disappointed that instead of driving and possibly drawing a foul (like he had nearly every possession leading up to the last play) he chose a long step-back jumper. Wes played great defense, a bit of luck played into it but at the end of the day he capitalized and they deserved the win!

  2. LJ_Johnson says:

    Matthews deserves a lot of credit for this win. For the all the people saying that Harden still scored 24 points, he did it by taking 24 shots. Anyone can get 24 points on 24 shots so stop making excuses for Harden.

  3. thesniper321 says:

    Harden 2 of his last 15?? And people say it’s a good game?? Damn

  4. Michael says:

    Harden is the best player in houston franchise and oklahoma that trade was ugly

  5. NBATrueFan says:

    24 pts, 5 asts, 6 rebs, 1 steal, and 1 block… is that really being “cooled off”?

  6. bigwes95 says:

    James Harden deserves no excuses for the very end. they lost the game and had a lead to the very end. the rockets choked and the blazers came up huge. Damian Lillard was very clutch, scoring 8 points by himself in the overtime, more than the whole rockets team.and wesley matthews played terrific defense throughout the whole game on harden. @amitpal, harden doesn’t get an excuse of still learning to be a star, if someone as young as Damion Lillard is playing crazy and still learning just how to play in the NBA, then Harden doesn’t need an excuse because someone like KD35 and Russel Westbrook didn’t want excuses for bad perfomances like harden. and that seperates superstars from just stars. id agree that Davis will win rookie of the year only because of his name, not his game.

    • Damn right blazers might not have the exposure n stars but they will compete every night we were dose to lose to lakers n wat happen smacked them we were suppose to get smashed in okc n wat happen close game we were suppose to lose to HARDENS rockets n wat happen W blazermania all day

  7. SophieAnne says:

    Alot of Rockets Sympathizers here. He was fouled,bad refs. OMG quit crying you just got beat by a better team,with pretty much a Better EVERYTHING except maybe bench. James Harden isn’t anybody to be worried about,he simply a OKC retread

  8. D Lion says:

    Wow. Someone writes an article about how well an underrated player (Matthews) guards a star (Harden) and changes a game, and everyone makes excuses for the star, explaining why some factor favored the other player; or says that the other player’s performance wasn’t as good as it appears. Why can’t people acknowledge that players with non-household names can play good games too? James Harden has been playing like a boss with Houston; for Matthews to defend him as well as he did was pretty impressive. Sure, 24 points may seem like a lot to give up, but he got those on 8-24 shooting. Someone like Harden will be able to score if given the ball enough, and Harden did. But regardless of how much he scored, his efficiency was way down, and that was due to the defense of Matthews. Matthews had a great game all around against James Harden, so give him the credit he deserves.

  9. deadmann1992 says:

    Harden is going to reach superstar status and is still has a lot to grow. I’m not even a harden fan. Wesley matthews is no slouch and is very aggressive on the defensive end. Blazers won fair and square.

  10. Dodge Carithers says:

    Harden has the making to become another very good player maybe reach superstar status

  11. phijef says:

    Back to back? Not an excuse. Both teams were playing their second game in consecutive nights. Foul on Harden? Maybe, but they allowed Portland to hang in there and keep it close at the end of the game. Rookie of the Year for Lillard? You bet.

    • amitpal says:

      Back to back would of course affecr harden cuz he had to work so hard to get his point. James is still learning how to be a star player and still doesnt know that u cant work as hard as he did in those two ganes. Its an 82 game season and u have to save ur energy. Instead james through it all out in those games and was looking a little tired last game. Dont take anything away from mathews he did a great job but still harden looked tired. And I’m from portland and Damian lillard is playing great but rookie of year is probably going to be anthony davis if he can stay heathly.

  12. Highhoopiq says:

    Wow, what a bunch of band wagoners. Harden is a solid player who has never shown an ability to be clutch. Last night was another example. Portland kept pressure on him and after the early game, first home game, adrenal wore off, he was unimpressive. 2 for his last 15? Teams are going to begin to play him like pdx played him last night and he will become just what we saw…a high volume shooter who averages mid twenties per game.

    • amitpal says:

      Non clutch?? This guy hit a dagger against the spurs last year in the playoffs. Hes been clutch this year closing out games. If u dont know anything about him dont comment. James was clutch for okc last year as well. Obviously he didnt take the last shot in ggames cuz he had kd on his team but in the final minutes all okc fans wanted to ball in his hand cuz he was the best decision maker on the team. He could score himself or get someone open.

  13. Jen says:

    If refs were fair, Rockets would have won this game. Harden was fouled for sure on that last play and a few other fouls were uncalled that were in favor of the Blazers.

  14. jamal says:

    i dunno… letting up 24 pts still doesn’t sound like a shutout to me

    • Desmodeus says:

      It’s not just the total points, it’s the number of shots taken to score those points. 24 points on 8 from 24 shooting is a pretty poor effort offensively. If you hold the opposition to 33% shooting you’ll win most games.

  15. W/E says:

    back to back games for J.Harden, getting tired or cold happens all the time to anyone, if he had another 40 pts night that woulda been INSANE,Jeremy lin has to step up in those situations and ASik gotta get better at scoring from point blank range for gods sake..

  16. Luke says:

    Was great D but in all honesty Harden beat him with the step back and caused a reach in which really was a foul. Obviously not always going to get called but was clearly a foul when replayed so got fairly lucky. From there Harden just tired and couldn’t find the answers, with his shot failing him down the stretch.

    Lucky but well played.

  17. Spaz says:

    Except Matthews fouled Harden on the hand at the end of regulation. It wasn’t across the forearm but would have been called if it wasn’t the final play.