Brandon Roy was the heartbeat. LaMarcus Aldridge was the soul.
All this talk about the Trail Blazers facing an elimination game on Monday in Phoenix was put on the back burner, and now it's a brand-new series. As I told you after a very ugly game three, it's a long series, and things can change quickly.
The Trail Blazers got back to playing with a certain desperation, sense of urgency, and used boundless in energy to put the Suns down, and keep them down, in game five. They outscored the Suns 22-15 in the fourth quarter, and won the game 96-87, putting the series back on serve as we head back to Arizona. It's 2-2, and assuming the Trail Blazers can win again at home, now have two more chances to win in Phoenix.
After hearing it from all directions, following games two and three, Aldridge was phenomenal in game five. He took physical blows, delivered some himself, and elevated his game to a new level in passing this huge test. He played like a 65-million-dollar man, scoring 31 points, grabbing 11 rebounds, and outplayed Amare Stoudemire. In an emotional, must-win game, where his team needed him the most, he delivered.
Now, to the drama surrounding this crazy day, as it concerns Brandon Roy. We heard he might, we heard he wouldn't, we heard he would, and we heard he wouldn't. It wasn't meant to be gamesmanship, but it certainly looked that way, and caught the Suns off guard. Again, that wasn't the plan.
Just 13 days after suffering the injury, and only eight days following surgery, Roy was certain he could go. He sent repeated text messages to his coach on Friday evening. The decision was still going to be "no." That's it. No.
In fact, the team held a closed-door shootaround on Saturday morning. I was in there and watched it all go down. Roy shot a few times, then sat down. He told me "probably not," when I asked if he was playing.
Moments after the session ended, I got set up for our pre-game interview with Nate McMillan. He said Brandon wouldn't go, but could possibly play on Monday in game five. Between that moment, and when the team hit the floor, Roy did his best to make it clear he wasn't going to sit this one out. Nate decided to involve Kevin Pritchard, and even owner Paul Allen in the process. They weighed the risk, and the reward. Would he re-injure the knee? Was he ready? How would it impact the team?
Teams have to set their rosters an hour before tip off. When the sheet was handed out, it had Roy's number circled, meaning he was going to be in uniform, and active. Even then though we knew Dante Cunningham was sick and wouldn't play. So, did this mean they just activated Brandon to get an extra body on the active list? Or, would he play?
At about 1:15, the team entered the hallway to meet one last time before taking the court for pre-game warmups. There was a camera there, and it showed Roy in uniform, on the big screen. The place went nuts, and the team was still 50 yards from the court.
I must admit that I rarely ever get chills anymore, as it relates to this job. You numb a bit to that stuff over the years. But, looking up at the big screen, hearing the crowd, watching Brandon bounce around like a caged animal in the hallway, was something I won't forget. Head-to-toe chills, and the thought that momentum was about to shift in this series. This is why we emotionally invest so much in sports. Moments like this. I was going back and forth between watching the big screen, and watching fans in the arena point to the screen to tell the people around them, "he's going. He's going to play."
The most dramatic moments in this business always seem to be organic. I'm sure nationally they'll think this was the plan all along- some backroom scheme to catch the Suns off guard. I can tell you, it wasn't.
To listen to Nate McMillan tell the story, and give his post-game comments, click here.
He tells the story better than I can, so click and listen.
Roy ended up playing a little less than 27 minutes in the game, and his impact on the contest can in no way be measured by the final box score. He scored 10 points, but the emotional lift he gave his team, and the arena, was massive. The Suns had to change their defensive approach, Jason Richardson had to expend a lot of energy shadowing Roy, and he helped space the floor by giving Portland more options.
Brandon did only have 10 points, but may have broken the Suns back with a huge basket with 4:57 to go. The ball was kicked to the corner, where Nicolas Batum was open for a three pointer. Instead of taking the shot, Batum, without hesitating, flicked the ball to Roy at the angle, and Brandon drilled the three to give Portland an 85-79 lead.
As big as that shot was, it was Aldridge who gets Player of the Game honors in this one. He scored 10 of his 31 points in the fourth, on 3 of 5 shooting, and also grabbed 3 rebounds in the final quarter. He was back to being LaMarcus from the outside, and was very active defensively. Huge game, LaMarcus, on a huge stage. Some have said he's not ready to be a big-game, big-moment player. He changed all of that on Saturday afternoon.
With the win, the Blazers insured they will get another home game, and more importantly climbed right back into this series. Games two and three were ugly. But, game four gives them new life.
It's now a best-of-three series, with Brandon Roy on the court.
After all that's happened this emotionally up-and-down season, you really didn't think the Blazers were going to go quietly into the night, did you?
We're off to Phoenix. Again.