Wesley Matthews hit a variety of athletic and long-range shots and recorded career highs in scoring and assists, but that wasn't what impressed his coach the most Monday night.
The thing Jerry Sloan raved about regarding Matthews after the Utah Jazz's 120-93 win over Memphis was how the 6-foot-5, 224-pound rookie dove to the court to scrap for a loose ball.
"It's nice to see somebody get down on the floor and get after it," Sloan said. "So many times we let somebody else do it, but that's what makes your team good."
Though the Jazz didn't score after the 20-second timeout was called when Matthews scrambled for the ball one minute into the game, that play was a solid tone-setter.
Less than a minute later, Matthews drilled the first of his two 3-pointers to put the Jazz up for good at 5-2. He finished with 17 points and five assists, eclipsing his previous highs of 16 and three, respectively.
But the strong night started on the ground at midcourt with one of his two steals.
"Whenever you're able to do stuff — dive on the floor, get a steal, get a deflection," Matthews said, "it kind of gets the blood flowing. It's cold in that arena."
Matthews said the part about the chilly temperature with a smile — a similar facial expression he showed when talking about his penchant for sacrificing his body on the hardwood for the team's good.
"That's part of me. That's part of who I am. I did that in high school. I did that in grade school," Matthews said of lunging for loose balls. "My Marquette coaches would've went crazy if I didn't dive on the floor, so nothing's changed. It's just, the bankroll's a little bit more."
Matthews, whose non-guaranteed contract is looking more secure by the day, had another key play with 27.1 remaining in the first half.
While driving hard on a fast break, Memphis guard Jamaal Tinsley fouled him from behind. Despite being bear-hugged, Matthews managed to muscle the layup in and then hit the free throw.
That capped a late-quarter surge for the Jazz, who went into the locker room ahead 61-48 after a double-digit lead had dipped down to four only three minutes earlier.
"It was a big play," said Matthews, regarding the fast break that began with a Carlos Boozer steal. "We pride ourselves on defense. To be able to turn defense into offense — and three points at that — it just demoralizes teams."
Matthews had a scary moment during his career night. In the fourth quarter, he limped off the court and was attended to by trainers after tweaking his left hip. He stretched in the tunnel for a couple of minutes and returned to play again, though.
"A 320-pounder (Jazz center Kyrylo Fesenko) stepped on my foot at the same time I was trying to turn to change directions, so it was kind of a pull," Matthews said. "But I'm all right. I'm good. It actually feels like it needed to happen."
When asked another question about the injury, Matthews laughed.
"Why do we keep talking about it? I'm good," he said, smiling. "Don't worry about it. I'm fine. I'm a Marquette boy. We're tough."
That has been noted and appreciated by the new coach of the undrafted player, whose team is now 7-2 during his stint as a starter.
"He's played pretty well all along," Sloan said. "He plays smart. He's not afraid."
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