Brandon Roy Returns, Boosts Blazers in Game 4 Win Over Suns
That was the decision at hand in the Roy household on Friday night, when Brandon was exchanging endless text messages with Portland coach Nate McMillan about whether he would play against Phoenix the following day and his fiancee, Tiana Bardwell, was waiting for the final word about her man's wardrobe.
"We were trying to see if I should have him dress in a jacket or just a sweater because you have to have a jacket to sit on the bench," Bardwell told FanHouse.
He wore the sweater, but not for long.
It would be replaced by a jersey before tipoff, with Roy pulling the stunner and taking the court just eight days after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in the Blazers' riveting 96-87 win that tied the first round series 2-2.
And with all due respect to NBA Supermen Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard, Roy's jersey may as well have had an 'S' emblazoned across his chest.
As sports moments go, this was nothing short of heroic.
The box score will never reflect the impact of his unexpected return, as Roy's 10 points on 4 of 10 shooting, one assist and one rebound were about as accurately symbolic of this state of affairs as the Blazers billboard outside that still read "Rise Up" even as so many of the team's injured players had fallen down.
But Bardwell could certainly explain.
As she stood in a Rose Garden tunnel holding their one-year-old daughter, Mariah, -- with Roy's nonstop media tour continuing on his cell phone nearby -- she was not only his significant other, but the unofficial spokesperson of a revived Blazers fanbase. With so little hope left after one-sided losses in Game 2 and 3, Roy had sparked yet another unthinkable revival with a return that wasn't made public until minutes before tipoff.
"I'm very proud," she said with a huge smile. "It just shows a lot of heart for him to even get out there, so I'm totally proud of him."
She wasn't alone.
The beginning and the end of Roy's outing were equally dramatic. After Blazers owner Paul Allen, general manager Kevin Pritchard, McMillan and the team's doctors collaborated to give Roy clearance, he entered for the first time with 4:06 left in the first quarter.
But the effect of his presence could be felt even before he hit the floor, as the Portland crowd that had so often booed during their team's lackluster loss in Game 3 exploded upon seeing him rise from the bench with the Suns up 17-10. Jerryd Bayless buried a three-pointer, which was followed by a Nicolas Batum dunk on the break and a Batum three-pointer that put Portland ahead 18-17 by the time Roy actually entered.
He entered with the Rocky theme music blaring, a cliché theatrical touch that was fitting nonetheless.
"I didn't quite hear the Rocky music, but I heard the fans," Roy said afterward. "I kept having to tell myself to relax. I didn't want to go out there and tire myself out too fast trying to play up to the hype ... I even felt a little jittery, but once I played I finally calmed down and was able to make some shots."
McMillan knew full well the impact Roy's reappearance would have.
"The last two games have just been flat, and we needed that lift," he said. "I just got chills when I looked up and the crowd saw that he was going to the scorer's table. I know our players fed off of that, the emotions and the energy in the building of having him back."
Roy hit his first shot a little more than a minute later, taking a pass from Marcus Camby on the left side of the key and curling for a right-handed layup that came with yet another spike to the red and black decibel level. But Roy would go quiet for most of the middle portion of the game, hitting just 2 of 8 shots in all before helping in the closing act.
With 4:49 remaining, the 6-foot-11 Camby drove the lane with only 6-3 Steve Nash in his way. Strangely, he passed to Batum in the right corner, and the ball moved yet again to Roy on the right wing. With Nash closing quickly, he buried the shot from beyond the arc and pushed the Blazers' lead to 85-79. Roy would come up big yet again with 2:11 left, putting plenty of pressure on his healing right knee with a jab step that put Jason Richardson on his heels. Roy hit his brakes and rose up for an 18-footer on the left wing, the shot putting Portland up 91-83 and all but putting the Suns away.
In between, the Suns were forced to defend differently because of Roy. That freed up forward LaMarcus Aldridge, the $65-million man who drew the majority of local ire for the way in which he was manhandled by Suns forward Amar'e Stoudemire in the previous two games. This time, though, Aldridge scored 31 points on 11 of 19 shooting and had 11 rebounds while Stoudemire's 26-point, six-rebound performance couldn't compare.
"(Roy's presence) was huge," Aldridge said. "As soon as he checked in the game, I got my first open shot with nobody guarding me so I was like, 'Thank God he's back.' Just having him out there is so big for us."
Stoudemire, whose flying elbow in Game 3 Thursday that was upgraded to a Flagrant 1 foul Friday led to his local lambasting at the Garden, noticed a difference in his big man counterpart.
"I think tonight he wanted to be aggressive," he said of Aldridge. "He got to the free throw line early, hit a couple shots, got his motivation going, got his confidence up. He shot the ball well. I've got to give him his props and respect. He shot the ball well -- inside, outside, free throw line, he did a great job tonight."
Roy's performance drew comparisons to Willis Reed's legendary reappearance in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, when he led his New York Knicks to the title despite missing Game 6 with a torn muscle in his right thigh. McMillan had experienced his own Willis Reed moment, too, shocking his teammates and Seattle fans by playing in Game 4 of the 1996 NBA Finals against Chicago after nerve damage in his lower back took him out of action after the first half of Game 1. The Sonics won that game and the next before falling in six games to the Bulls. The Blazers, however, now foresee no such elimination.
Yet while their plan worked to perfection, McMillan faced plenty of questions about whether the Blazers risked the long-term health of the player who signed a five-year maximum contract extension in August. All involved said there was no risk.
And Roy, who took part in two-on-two drills in Saturday's Portland practice and reported no pain in recent days, was refusing to sit any longer.
"You're thinking about the risk of him re-injuring himself coming back, some would say, too soon," McMillan said. "But our doctors who did the surgery know what kind of surgery he did, and (they) didn't feel like he could hurt himself. Brandon didn't feel any pain in all of his workouts."
Nearly an hour after the Blazers' win, Roy was feeling just fine when he clocked out for the day. He held the bubbly Mariah as he walked toward his car, with Bardwell at his side and their 3-year-old son, Brandon Jr., sleeping in the arms of a friend as they departed.
The loading dock door slammed soon after they were gone, the security light above it shining bright red just seconds later. There was no stopping Roy, though. That much had already been made clear.
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