PORTLAND -- "Must win" is easily the most over used cliche' in all of sports. Think about it. It's never a "must win" until a loss eliminates a team from contention. But Sunday's Blazers game at home against the Boston Celtics was as close to being a "must win" as there is, without a team actually being in a "must win" situation.
Backs to the wall, reeling from a seven game losing skid, and free falling through the Western Conference standings, the Blazers needed to, to use another cliche' "right the ship." "Oh yeah, we needed that, we needed that, especially here at the Rose Garden," said Center J.J. Hickson after Portland's 92-86 win Sunday night. He wasn't alone in his feeling of need. "Feels good to get a win, especially after a long losing streak," said Coach Terry Stotts.
The Blazers hadn't won since February 4th in Minneapolis to kick off that six game pre-All-Star weekend road trip. Hadn't entered the winner's circle since the day after the Super Bowl. "I didn't realize that," said Wesley Matthews, "it has been a while though." Matthews poured in 24 points against Boston in his recent return from an ankle injury that looked so bad, no one would've been surprised had it been broken in about 17 places. "We were in the game against the Lakers because he came back," Stotts said of Matthews. "We win the game tonight because he's back," he continued. "There's no guarantee we lose tonight if he doesn't play, but certainly he's a big part of what we do well."
Matthews has become the heart and soul of this team. Playing though an array of injuries, "elbow, ankle, hip, I'm not even near 80 percent healthy," he said. But he is in the lineup if he can walk. "A lot of guys have bumps and bruises (during the season), but he's got a lot of issues going on right now. But that's Wes, he's been a warrior for us all season," said Hickson.
When told of the praise his coach and teammates were heaping on, Matthews said "it means a lot," but was quick to share that praise. "We have a lot of guys stepping up. Victor Claver had a big game, and Will Barton gave us good minutes in the first half."
But no one gave the Blazers more important minutes on this night than Matthews. His late three point field goal sealed a must, er, a critical win for the Blazers. "We still have hope, and belief that we can make a run at these playoffs," he said. His back court mate agrees. "Rejuvenates us," Damian Lillard said of the win over Boston. "Gives us something to look forward to. Now we can try to start a streak and make a push."
As long as Wesley Matthews can push through injuries, maybe anything is possible? And maybe that "must win" situation won't actually come to fruition until it really is a "must win" situation.