Gametape Breakdown: Wesley Matthews' Career Night

wrote on Monday that I would have a gametape breakdown today and that "the results will almost certainly be better" than the putrid tape against the New Orleans Hornets. Thanks to Blazers guard Wesley Matthews and his career-high 30 points last night, I get to be a man of my word today. 

Let's take a look at all 30 of Matthews' points providing some play-by-play analysis and notes along the way. Buckle up. Watching it back today was even more entertaining than living it live last night.

Back in September, I wrote at length about Portland's improved perimeter versatility. Roy's uncertain health has limited that versatility, but in his first start of the season Matthews delivered on that talk in a big way.  

Here's the video. Sorry for the rough cuts. Scroll down for the play by play description and analysis.

Play One: Matthews layup in transition (2 points) -- 10 minute mark, first quarter

LaMarcus Aldridge blocks a Marc Gasol layup attempt and the ball gets out quickly to Matthews, who runs a one-man fast break, much to Memphis's surprise. Matthews is not known as a leaper or a super finesse ballplayer, so his presence in the open court can be deceiving to defenders. He's not the first guy you expect to put people on posters. That deceptiveness, combined with a really lazy defensive attempt by Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, who just sort of waves at him as he goes to the basket, makes Matthews' first basket an easy one, despite some klutziness on the landing. This would be an early sign of things to come. 

Play Two: Matthews three (5 points) -- 2 minute mark, first quarter

Matthews has been struggling to shoot the three pointer during the regular season, after he looked pretty solid in training camp and in the preseason. As noted a few weeks back, he was getting down on himself about it and working through the mental adjustment of switching to a second unit role and seeing variable playing time minutes.

On this play, he doesn't pull the trigger on a relatively open corner three pointer after Armon Johnson kicks it out to him on a drive, but that's OK in this instance because there's still 16 seconds on the shot clock. Matthews smartly creates space for Johnson to fill by dribbling towards the center of the court, freeing up the corner. He feeds Johnson and then drifts, using a picture perfect back pick from Dante Cunningham to get himself wide open at the top of the key. Johnson finds him on time and on the money and Matthews, with his feet set and momentum going into the shot, buries his first three pointer. Here you like the patience, the spacing, the off-ball teamwork and movement, as well as the eventual result. 

Off-ball movement isn't always about flashy cuts to the basket. Subtly working the edges of the perimeter can be fruitful as well. 

Play Three: Matthews three (8 points) -- 1 minute mark, first quarter

Just about one minute later, Matthews gets up ahead of the action again, and Johnson finds him in pseudo-transition. Nothing is really there, so Matthews looks to reset, but Johnson has other ideas, quickly switching the point of attack to Rudy Fernandez on the weakside. Fernandez uses a quick pick from Cunningham to get to the baseline and to collapse Memphis's defense entirely. 

Once again, Matthews provides the subtle spacing, drifting towards the corner as OJ Mayo collapses down on LaMarcus Aldridge to cover the defensive breakdown on the strong side. Matthews is wide freaking open and he has all the time in the world to set his feet and follow through, knocking down a clunky three pointer.

This was an excellent read by Johnson and a strong take by Fernandez. They did most of the work. Matthews made that work pay off by getting to the right place at the right time. 

Play Four: Matthews three (11 points) -- 11 minute mark, second quarter

A few minutes later, it's more solid movement and coordinated action between Johnson, Fernandez and Matthews. An initial drive into the key for Johnson goes nowhere, so he flips it out to Fernandez, who drives to the middle and gives it back to Johnson in the left corner. Johnson wisely pump-fakes the shot as he's a little out of his range and he's got Memphis's defense scrambling to keep up. Johnson attacks the paint hard off the dribble to his right hand, which is great to see. After drawing three defenders to his body and all five of Memphis's players into the paint, Johnson kicks it out to Matthews, who is once again wide freaking open.

Look at the tape: there's roughly 15 feet of space between Matthews and the nearest defender. In this case, that's a good thing, because the pass is low and Matthews has to reach down to reel it in before getting into his shooting motion. This is the type of thing that can throw a lot of players, including Matthews in the recent past, off of their stroke. Having just made back-to-back threes, Matthews' confidence is high and he calmly gathers himself and buries it.

You can tell by his bounce back down the court that he's feeling it.

Play Five: Matthews layup in transition (13 points) -- 9 minute mark, second quarter

Matthews again beats a lackadaisical Memphis defense down the court in semi-transition and jukes the meniscus out of Sam Young for a layup. He finishes prettily with his left hand as Rudy Gay tries to contest the shot at the last instant. This one borders on forcing things in the context of Portland's slow-down system, but it was a calculated gamble and Matthews delivered. This is another confidence play. You can see him sizing up Young very early before the move. On a different night or against a different defender, perhaps he pulls it out and the Blazers run their offense. 

Play Six: Matthews two foul shots (15 points) -- 4 minute mark, second quarter

This is the quintessential Matthews play of the night. He hits the floor on defense to chase a loose ball. He quickly hops up when he loses the battle for the ball, instinctively stepping into the passing lane and picking off the pass. He tiptoes the sideline and is off to the races, and OJ Mayo is forced to take a late swipe during his layup attempt, which results in two free throws when the spinning shot rolls off.

Matthews was brought in as a two-way player and this is a two-way playoff type of play: a combination of extra effort, intelligence, grace, aggressiveness and power. 

Play Seven: Matthews three (18 points) -- 3 minute mark, second quarter

Portland's starters are back on the court to close out the second quarter, and the Blazers get into one of their favorite sets, with LaMarcus Aldridge on the left block and Andre Miller playing off of him on the strong side. As Miller goes through the play, escaping to the weakside, a double comes down to Aldridge, who does well to deal with it patiently and pull the ball out a bit, opening up some space by pulling the defense with him briefly. 

Once again, Matthews takes advantage of Mayo's off-ball positioning, this time sliding to the right angle when Aldridge distracts everyone by dribbling out. Matthews' slide is timed perfectly and he, once again, receives a fantastic back pick from a Blazer big man. This time, it's Camby laying the wood to Mayo, who has no hope of fighting through to recover to Matthews once he realizes what has happened. The rotation comes, but it comes too late, and the red hot Matthews buries another one.

Play Eight: Matthews three (21 points) -- 2 minute mark, second quarter

A minute later, Aldridge again finds himself in isolation on the left block, drawing extra attention as Nicolas Batum feeds him and escapes to the weakside. This time, the soft double look comes from Conley, who is dropping off of Matthews way too far into the key, ostensibly to show some support on Aldridge but really accomplishing nothing. He's just lost in no man's land, driving his coach bananas.

This defense becomes a a criminal lack of effort and awareness from Conley when he nonchalantly recovers as Matthews squares up and puts down another wide open look. Conley's coaches should torch him for this one in the film room. That's way, way too easy for any NBA player, let alone one who had already made four three-pointers in the first half. Clueless.

Play Nine: Matthews free throw  (22 points) -- 1 minute mark, second quarter

Seconds later, Mayo makes a mental lapse on offense and it's off to the races for Matthews for the fourth time in a single half. Darrell Arthur and Mayo give chase and Matthews gets smacked on the face during his layup attempt. He makes one of two free throws to close his first half scoring.  

22 points in 21 minutes of action. 15 points on 3s. 7 points (2 buckets and 3 free throws) coming in transition or semi-transition. Both methods are super duper efficient ways to score.

Play Ten: Matthews drive  (24 points) -- 8 minute mark, third quarter

Matthews starts off his second half scoring with his first points in the halfcourt that didn't come on three-pointers.

The possession begins with Matthews looking to push the tempo and play early, but he makes a questionable decision by hitting the trailing Aldridge with a pass near the three-point line, a recipe for a player control foul or a travel. Aldridge wisely resets the offense, turning the ball over to Miller. Good work, and Aldridge was smartly complimented for it by Mike Barrett.

After a few seconds of thought, Miller turns the possession over to Matthews, who finds himself in isolation on the wing against Conley. He makes the simplest of moves driving to his strong hand, it's not particularly explosive, but it leaves Conley in the dust on the perimeter. Mayo tries to come all the way from the weakside to contest the shot at the rim, but Matthews nimbly adjusts his flight in mid-air to finish a circus layup with his left hand.  This was a bit of a jaw-dropper because Matthews isn't known as a raw athlete. 

Play Eleven: Matthews cut (26 points) -- 9 minute mark, fourth quarter

The Blazers get bogged down in their halfcourt offense, with Miller on the perimeter, dribbling, as the clock winds down. This happened a lot last year and it happens a lot this year. It's a recipe for inefficiency: forced contested shots against the clock almost always result.

On this play, Matthews again catches a Memphis defender with his head turned off the ball. This time it's Rudy Gay, and Matthews makes a curving cut to the basket as the weakside defenders watch both Miller (with the ball) and Aldridge (going to the high post, perhaps to receive a quick pass and then shoot). Matthews sneaks to the rim, manages to stay in bounds, quick jump, release a shot and avoid getting blocked by Gay, who recovered just a fraction of a second too late, all in one motion. 

It's another smart, efficient play that showed off a range of skills: footwork, timing, intelligence, finishing ability. Savvy. Savvy. Savvy.

Play Twelve: Matthews dunk in transition (28 points) -- 7 minute mark, fourth quarter

There's not much to say about this one except: wow.

Portland's defense creates a fast break opportunity by forcing a turnover, and Matthews goes way up after receiving a transition pass over his shoulder from Fernandez, takes two gather steps on the run and then dunks with one hand at a full sprint, putting a helpless Gay on the corner of his poster. This was his most athletic play of the season, so far, and a big basket too: it put Portland up by two with under seven minutes to play.

My goodness.

Play Thirteen: Matthews pull up jumper (30 points) -- 9 minute mark, fourth quarter

Matthews concluded his scoring less than a minute after his monster dunk. Using a high screen from Marcus Camby, Matthews scoots into the lane just above the free throw line, driving by Gay and then evading Zach Randolph, who is helping on the play. He finds a nice mid-range pocket of space to get off a clean look. He found the hole in the defense, stepped up and swished the mid-range jumper off the dribble. There's not much defenses can do to stop that and often defenses will concede this type of shot. Brandon Roy has made a career out of exploiting that fact. 

This final basket was the one time on his career night where Matthews evoked Roy's game. Otherwise, his points came in his own way.

Final Thoughts

In case you were wondering, the last time Brandon Roy scored 30+ points was on March 11, which was the only time dating back to January 13 that Roy had notched 30 or more points. While Matthews is far, far away from Roy as an offensive player, his game last night was special, in part, because it's been a long time since we've seen such an electric performance from a Blazers guard. 

To tally it up: Matthews had 15 points on threes, 9 points in transition and 6 points in the halfcourt offense. He scored by knockdown shooting, by shooting after spacing the floor, by driving, by cutting, by pulling up, by dunking, by laying up in transition and by getting fouled in transition. That is offensive versatility defined.

Matthews' all-around brilliant performance last night came about because of a combination of factors: everything was clicking for him, he was the recipient of numerous quality passes from his fellow guards and screens by his big men, and because Memphis's defense was lazy, slow to adjust and lost, making his life a lot easier.

While this kind of performance isn't likely to occur on a regular basis, Matthews has established a new offensive ceiling for himself, which should serve to bolster his confidence and provide a measure of stability if Roy continues to miss time.

This was a breakout performance to remember. 

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

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