The former Garfield and UW star makes a surprise appearance in Game 4 of the opening series with Phoenix, helping Portland to a 96-87 victory.
PORTLAND — With the first quarter more than half gone and the Portland Trail Blazers already down by seven, Brandon Roy sprung from his chair, ripped off his sweats and jogged to the scorer’s table.
And the fans at the Rose Garden rose to their feet and roared that deafening, jet-engine roar that is practically exclusive to the NBA playoffs. They cheered as if they saw “HOPE” on the back of jersey No. 7, instead of “ROY.”
“It gave me chills,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said.
Only eight days ago, Roy underwent surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee.
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He was supposed to be gone, at least for this opening series against Phoenix. But Saturday afternoon, in one of the most legendary performances in playoff history, Roy returned.
Obviously rusty, noticeably winded, he played more than 26 minutes, including the final 15:22, as Portland evened its series with the Suns 2-2 with a 96-87 victory.
In the kind of performance that awoke the echoes of a hobbled Willis Reed for the New York Knicks in Game 7 of the 1970 Finals against the Lakers, Roy played with heart and smarts.
He had very little lift in his legs and struggled with his jump shot, making only 4 of 10. But he gave Phoenix something it hadn’t expected. He made the Suns change their defense to deal with him. He rocked their game plan.
Roy’s stat line — 10 points, one rebound, one assist — doesn’t begin to explain his impact on this game.
“I thought he lifted our team tonight,” McMillan said. “I know our players felt the emotion and the energy in the building.”
The fact that Roy played at all is a major triumph for modern medicine. The fact that he could be effective, that Roy could be a difference-maker in the hot-house atmosphere of the playoffs, was nothing short of miraculous.
As late as Saturday morning, his chances of playing were slim. He came to the Rose Garden early, “just hoping to get a hard workout in.”
Roy, the former UW star, practically pestered McMillan into playing.
“I’ve always been the kind of guy who feels like if I can play, I’m not going to waste any games,” Roy said. “I’m not going to sit in the back and watch the games. It doesn’t feel right.”
After Roy look ragged in a full-court, two-on-two game with teammates Patty Mills, Jeff Pendergraph and Donte Cunningham on Friday, McMillan told Roy he wasn’t in shape to play.
Roy watched the Friday-night playoff games on television and couldn’t ease his itch. He felt no pain in his knee, and he knew he could manage the rust and the lack of conditioning.
“I gotta play,” Roy texted McMillan on Friday night.
“You’ve got to be patient,” McMillan texted back.
“I’m ready,” Roy responded. “Even if I can’t play 35 minutes, I can play 15 or 20. I can help.”
“I want you to play,” McMillan answered. “but … “
In the final hour before the game, McMillan — who as a Sonic played in Game 4 of the 1996 NBA Finals with a back injury so painful he could barely walk — talked with owner Paul Allen.
“I thought this decision was important enough that we had to ask Mr. Allen,” McMillan said.
After all, Allen is paying Roy $82 million. Was Allen willing to risk the slim possibility that Roy could re-injure the knee?
Just before the team left the locker room to take the floor, Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard gave Roy a thumbs-up. He had Allen’s approval.
“I’m a tough person,” Roy said.
When Roy entered in the first quarter, the theme music from “Rocky” blared through the din in the arena.
“I didn’t quite hear the ‘Rocky’ music, but I did hear the fans,” Roy said. “The biggest thing I had to keep telling myself was to just relax. I even felt a little jittery. I didn’t want to play up to the hype.”
Roy changed the game. Even while he waited at the scorer’s table, his teammates went on an 8-0 run. When Roy finally entered, LaMarcus Aldridge, who finished with 31 points, got a rare open look at a jumper.
“I thought, ‘Thank God he’s back,’ ” Aldridge said.
In the fourth quarter, Roy seemed to settle into the game. He took a pass from Nicolas Batum and made a three with Steve Nash running at him that put Portland up 85-79.
Then he crab-dribbled and shook free of Jason Richardson for a bucket that gave the Blazers a 91-82 lead going into the final two minutes.
With the game and the season on the line, Brandon Roy played like Brandon Roy always plays.
“He (McMillan) didn’t really want me to play today,” Roy said. “He was thinking long-term.”
But Roy doesn’t think long-term. If the lights are on, he wants to play. And because of his persistence, his insistence, the Blazers got even.