Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — When Wesley Matthews re-entered Monday's game with just under four minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Utah Jazz were trailing by 14 points.
Moments later, the Jazz closed the period on a 12-0 run to trim the Phoenix Suns' game-high 17-point lead to five. Utah opened the fourth with four consecutive points, and went on to outscore the Suns 33-19 in the final quarter.
And Matthews was on the court for every last second of the wildly thrilling turnaround.
Just a coincidence that Utah rallied to a third win in a row — a crazy 124-115 shootout victory over the high-flying Suns — with their undrafted rookie in the game?
"Wes came off the bench," said a complimentary Carlos Boozer, "and did a great job."
And that was just on defense.
After turning the ball over shortly after subbing in, Matthews helped give the Jazz a huge offensive boost. He hit an open 3-pointer and scored on a fast break during the late third-quarter spurt, and followed that with a 10-point fourth quarter with a couple of long balls to help lessen the blow from the 17 triples made by the scorching Suns.
Matthews finished with a career-high 21 points with five assists and four rebounds in a very effective 23-1/2 minute effort.
Think 29 other NBA teams wish they could do 2009 Draft Day do-over?
The overlooked Marquette product certainly proved his NBA worth in this one.
"I was just playing ball," Matthews said, "the same game I've been playing since I was 4 years old."
But he was playing it anything like a youngster or rookie. He played like a well-seasoned vet on both ends, including one stretch in which he poked the ball away from a driving and red-hot Goran Dragic, then raced down to the other end to get fouled on a layup attempt.
Matthews sank both free throws to put Utah up 115-109 with 3:46 remaining, a swing that came in an all-but-game-clinching 8-0 run.
Matthews radiated poise in the clutch on this night.
Coach Jerry Sloan also thought Matthews showed a fighter's spirit in the comeback win.
So while Sloan appreciates that Matthews can shoot — 6-for-13 overall but 3-for-6 from 3-point land — and play defense and hustle, it's the 23-year-old's fearless factor that the coach really loves.
"He's a guy that's not afraid," Sloan said. "He's not afraid to take the ball to the basketball."
Not afraid to sweat it out and do the dirty stuff, either.
"He's been terrific the way he's worked and he just keeps plugging," Sloan added. "He works hard in practice, works on his shooting. He wants to be a good player."
Sloan also values the fact Matthews played four years of college ball.
Matthews appreciates, well, that he's appreciated and is being given a chance to play again after seeing his role diminished a bit the past month or so.
"The fact," Matthews said, "that the coaching staff and the players have confidence in me to be in the game in such a pivotal game — at that point in time I've got to play with confidence. I'd hurt us if I don't."
Matthews did anything but hurt the Jazz down the stretch. Granted, he missed three of his five shots, but he hit those two timely threes, sank all four free-throw attempts, grabbed three boards, and had a pair of assists and steals.
Matthews also helped limit the hot Suns to 19 points and was a big part of the 26-point swing.
"That's NBA basketball, growing up that's what I watched," Matthews said, smiling. "That's what I loved and to be apart of it I can't even put it in words."
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