Western Conference Playoffs First Round - Game 4
(6) Portland 96, (3) Phoenix 87 - Series tied, 2-2
Many pundits and bloggers felt the move was irresponsible. Many writers and fans had their doubts about the decision made by the Portland Trail Blazer organization on Saturday afternoon at the Rose Garden.
Fortunately for owner Paul Allen, General Manager Kevin Pritchard, and coach Nate McMillan, Brandon Roy didn't hurt himself in 26 minutes of playing time. Even more blessedly for the Blazers, a bounce-back win ensured that this series will come back to Oregon for a Game 6 this upcoming Thursday.
At the beginning of this series, Roy - the Portland superstar who does so many different things for his team - was viewed to be out for the duration. There really wasn't much of any chatter or speculation about the matter through the first three games of Portland's matchup with the Phoenix Suns. After last Thursday's blowout loss to Phoenix, Roy asked to be given a chance to play, and after consultations among Portland's highest-ranking officials, Roy was given the green light to receive spot minutes in the first and second halves.
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It's evident that even though Roy was much less than full strength - he scored a modest 10 points - his presence on the floor still had a profound effect on his teammates.
For one thing, the energy and hunger that were so manifestly absent in Game 3 returned with a vengeance in Game 4. The Blazers hounded Phoenix at the defensive end, conceding only 37 second-half points and forcing six turnovers (against just eight assists) from Suns point guard Steve Nash. The Blazers often guarded Nash with a bigger man on the perimeter, and Phoenix didn't respond too well to the move. Nash was occasionally able to get the ball to teammate Amare Stoudemire for a layup, but on most occasions, Portland locked down defensively and prevented the Suns' wings from getting wide-open threes or clear driving lanes. Roy's ability to compete hard on defense - he took a charge at one point and proved to be his typically fearless self - certainly motivated his teammates to dig deeper.
In accordance with the Blazers' defensive sharpness, the Suns weren't able to speed up the pace of the game or get the fast-break points they rely on. In what was always going to be a clear-cut battle of tempo, Portland got the slowdown-style game it wanted, while Phoenix utterly failed in its attempt to force the issue and speed up the Blazers.
On offense, one of the big benefits of Brandon Roy's presence in this game was that Blazer forward LaMarcus Aldridge - who sometimes posted up on the left block and, on other occasions, spotted up at the top of the key - had a little more space with which to operate. Roy wasn't double-teamed in this game, but he did receive enough attention that Aldridge had a little more room when going one-on-one against Stoudemire. As a result of the way Portland's halfcourt sets unfolded, Aldridge felt profoundly more comfortable with his shot and his overall game. The results indicated as much. The Texas Longhorn went for 31 points and 11 boards, giving McMillan and the Portland coaching staff the scoring punch they needed.
Now, it's a best-of-three, for all intents and purposes. With Brandon Roy back on the floor, the Blazers - who have won so often this season precisely when their injuries appeared to have diminished them beyond the point of hope - have to be very confident about their ability to extend this series to the limit.
Pro Basketball Fans Senior Staff Writer
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