SALT LAKE CITY — The traits that made Wes Matthews a fan favorite as a rookie in Utah last season — toughness, hustle, defensive intensity and ability to knock down shots — were on display for Jazz fans Monday night.
Fans showed their appreciation for him during player introductions with a warm ovation. But as the night went on and Matthews showed off his skills in a Portland uniform, the lovefest ended.
Matthews had 14 points and 8 rebounds in Portland's 96-91 win over the Jazz. He helped Portland break a five-game losing streak against Utah, and it was just the Blazers' second road win in their last nine games away from home.
He argued with a handful of fans during Monday's game, but Matthews enjoyed returning to where he made a splash as an undrafted rookie before he earned a fat contract from his new team.
"It was fun being back here playing," Matthews said. "Fans are great. Their support has always been good. I got a lot of mixed signals out there tonight. It was a lot of fun, especially because we got the win."
There were no mixed signals from fans before the game, as they loudly cheered Matthews when he was introduced.
"It felt great," Matthews said. "I wasn't expecting it at all. I really appreciate the support. Jazz fans have always been great to me. I just appreciate it."
Matthews struggled in the first half because he may have been trying to do too much, but he regrouped in the second half. He scored 10 of his points and collected six of his eight rebounds after halftime.
"Of course, any time you come back to a team you played for you're going to be fired up and he was certainly fired up tonight," said Portland coach Nate McMillan. "I thought he was pressing a little bit early, but he just did a good job of making (Deron) Williams work. Offensively, he was doing the things he's been doing for us all season long — making plays."
Matthews showed off his versatility against the Jazz. On back-to-back possessions during the decisive fourth quarter, he guarded Paul Millsap and Mehmet Okur. Matthews challenged a shot Millsap took against him, and Millsap missed. Okur backed Matthews into the lane and made a hook shot over him.
Only Marcus Camby (12) and Al Jefferson (9) had more rebounds than Matthews in Monday's game.
"I thought he was big tonight rebounding the ball," McMillan said. "We need our guards and everybody to get in the paint and help rebound the ball. Tonight he had some big boards for us."
Matthews' biggest rebound came in the fourth quarter. He collected an offensive board off a miss by Andre Miller with Portland leading 79-76 with 3:42 left in the game. The Blazers called timeout after the rebound, and LaMarcus Aldridge hit a jumper shortly after to put Portland up, 81-76.
Matthews has thrived as a Blazer. He entered Monday's game averaging 15.7 points and 3.1 rebounds per contest. He has scored at least 13 points in Portland's last 12 games. In the games Matthews has been a starter, he is averaging 19.6 points per contest.11 comments on this story
"He is a guy that we knew played hard and brought an attitude to the floor," McMillan said.
Utah coach Jerry Sloan, who seemed tired of answering questions about Matthews prior to tip-off on Monday night, knows what Portland got when it signed Matthews.
"We wish him well," Sloan said. "We go on about our business and play basketball. He's not with us. I'm not surprised he plays well. He's a very hard-nosed guy, worked hard here and we appreciate what he did. It's not about that. It's about what we do and how we play. We've got to go on."