Garrison Mathews moves from G League to key contributor to Rockets slippage

The Rockets needed someone to replace them. Jalen Green – prized rookie, second draft pick, basketball celebrity since the age of 14 – had come out with an injury. His usual replacement, Eric Gordon, had already entered the starting lineup.

With a win in sight, the Rockets needed an understudy to play a starring role.

Garrison Mathews, who six weeks earlier was unemployed in the NBA and two weeks earlier was still in the G League, got the call. But the two-way player is used to overcoming long odds.

Mathews had gained a foothold in the NBA with the first in his series of two-way contracts at Lipscomb University, a program he chose because in addition to being close to his home in Franklin, Tenn., He had was one of the few schools to offer a scholarship.

The Rockets signed him for his third two-part contract just before the season, then sent him to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers before even training with Houston.

But after Green came out, Mathews started Wednesday’s second half. And when the game was on the line, with the Rockets holding a fragile three-point lead and scarring from a 15-game losing streak, Mathews was in the closing lineup, open in the corner and taking a pass from the best. scorer Christian Bois.

When Mathews clinched the win with a corner 3 with 25.5 seconds left, the Rockets bench went crazy and Mathews threw up three fingers as if he had never had any doubts about the shot or the route he was taking. ‘he hiked to get there.

“It’s awesome,” said Mathews. “That’s all I work for. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to be put in this position. I know a lot of people are hoping for this and working for it. I am grateful that it happened.

The timing and the shot were typical of his unusual blend of humility and confidence. His journey from high school footballer / receiver to Lipscomb and a run to the NIT Championship game and ultimately his combined NBA / G League contract indicates the work and good fortune required along the way.

“I wasn’t very good when I left high school,” said Mathews, 24. “I was more of a football player. I had a few DI deals, like Austin Peay, and a few D-II deals. Lipscomb was near me. They were actually offering someone else. He went. elsewhere.

Yet despite the need for a scholarship that someone else turned down, he plays like he never missed a shot or at least didn’t believe he could ever miss another.

Mathews hadn’t shot well in his first four games with the Rockets, scoring 6 of 22 3-pointers before sinking a pair on Wednesday. But those 3 had come up like he was playing Pop-A-Shot, barely enough time to touch his hands before they were gone.

“I saw someone who was not at all afraid of the moment,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said of Mathews as soon as he was called up by the Vipers. “He’s a good shot, he takes the lead in defense, is in the right place in defense and has a tenacity about him that is necessary for our group. Yeah, throw it in there and it shows all of these things, (and) it gives it more playtime.

“He’s a worker. He is diligent. He shot well in the NBA before coming here, so he’s super confident. He did the one in the first half and said to himself “Finally”. And then he did the big shot in the corner and wasn’t afraid to shoot at all, and that’s what I like about him.

Mathews’ tenacity was immediately evident. His average of one charge shot per game leads the NBA even in his 19.5 minutes per game. He was second, behind Lu Dort of Oklahoma City, in offensive fouls drawn last season.

“I credit this with the fact that I have played football my whole life,” said Mathews. “… Just being in the right place is where the accusations come from.” “

Even with the NBA’s emphasis on not rewarding efforts to shoot fouls, he was often the victim of a 3 in 3 foul due to a shooting movement in which he leaps forward with his right leg turned towards the basket.

Still, his shot will be essential to stay in the rotation. Mathews did extra work on Tuesday after scoring 1 of 6 of 3 against the Celtics, the team that cut him off at training camp this season, allowing the Rockets to recover him on waivers. He arrived after completing 38.9% of his 3, playing 82 games in two seasons with the Wizards.

The Rockets’ style, spreading the field with a five-out attack, offered a chance to establish itself and possibly earn a standard contract with the NBA. But he couldn’t expect so much so soon.

“I didn’t really know what to expect,” he said. “I knew it would be a great opportunity for me just the way I play, the wise spacing and the way I shoot the ball. I haven’t shot it very well yet. I just knew there could be opportunities. I am grateful that they arrived so quickly.

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