HOUSTON - Life in the NBA can be the equivalent of being on a rollercoaster. One minute you ascend to the top, and the next, you descend at full speed. That process repeats throughout the player's career until he leaves the game.
For Rockets reserve shooting guard Garrison Mathews, he must feel like he is on the Superman: Escape from Krypton at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California.
Last season, the fans nicknamed Mathews "Garry Bird" - yes, after former Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird - because of his volume 3-point shooting. He was a wild card for the Rockets, averaging 26.3 minutes per game, and had a toughness about him that made him a rotation constant for head coach Stephen Silas.
One could imagine that the rise to the top of the rollercoaster ride for Mathews in 2021 put a smile on his face. But everyone knows that what goes up must come down, and maybe the third-year veteran was not prepared for the descending of that ride.
Mathews has seen his playing time decrease tremendously this season, averaging only 12.8 minutes in the first 18 games. He did not see the court for three games, as Silas Silas decided to spread his minutes out to other role players.
Yet, Mathews has stayed positive throughout the process, and when he was called upon on Friday versus the Hawks, he was ready. With Eric Gordon out to rest on the front end of a back-to-back, Mathews was effective in the 22-plus minutes he played, scoring 20 points in the Rockets' 128-122 victory over Atlanta. He hit 3-of-5 from 3-point range (60.0%) and made all nine of his free-throw attempts.
"It's not easy," Mathews replied when asked about staying mentally prepared during a lack of playing time. "The coaches do a great job of trying to keep you ready by getting shots and playing on the side. It is not easy, but I was just fortunate to play well tonight."
Houston looked lethargic in the second and third quarters and trailed Atlanta by as much as 16 points with just under seven minutes left in the third quarter. At the time, it looked like it would stay that way, as both teams had multiple players receive technical fouls.
Making matters worse for the Rockets, Jalen Green picked up his fifth personal foul and had to sit down for the remainder of the quarter as the Hawks took a 10-point lead heading into the final period.
Atlanta head coach Nate McMillan had to feel comfortable with the Green on the bench and a comfortable double-digit lead. He could never have imagined what was about to happen next, which is why he had a perplexed look on his face as Mathews took over in the fourth quarter - scoring 11 of Houston's 34 points to secure the win.
"Garry Bird is back," Green told reporters postgame. "I told him 'Welcome back,' and we missed him for a while. That is all a part of the game. He is still the same player. I think it is really great that he kept his mind and was mentally in the game. He just came out and performed. That is something that he does every game. Every time he comes in, he is going to be gritty."
Mathews' performance against the Hawks could signify that the rollercoaster may be on the ascent, once again.
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Story originally appeared on Rockets Wire