Walking into the Rose Garden Saturday afternoon, nobody had more pressure on its shoulders than the Portland Trail Blazers.
It was an unusual situation for a home game. It was an earlier match, the crowd was rowdier, and despite surging one game closer to tying the series with Dallas after Portland’s Game 3 win two days prior, nothing would have mattered if the Trail Blazers didn’t walk off their home court with a win.
They did, in strenuous fashion.
It was an epic portrayal of heart and determination overcoming all odds. Portland just couldn’t get anything working, starting early in the first quarter. And by the third as the Mavs mounted a 23-point lead, the pressure of Game 4 matchup looked to have buckled the knees of the Trail Blazers.
“Even playing that game, it kind of seemed like it was over,” said Brandon Roy. “Dallas was pounding us…Coach was…basically saying if we lose tonight, we’re done.”
Even more pressure on Portland, which couldn’t imagine falling on its home court in front of over 20,000 fans, who believed in the team, supported each individual player and hoped for an uprise.
Heads fell to the floor, realizing the heavy burden. The Trail Blazers couldn’t afford going back to Dallas down 3-1.
“I thought we started to feel sorry,” said McMillan. “I saw a lot of our heads dropped at one of the timeouts and we just needed to get our heads up and play ball.”
Knowing his own insecurities, the voices that questioned the durability of his surgically repaired knees, his mental toughness not being the go-to guy, and himself, wondering if he would ever return to the old Brandon, Roy broke free from all his pressures.
“You could see in his eyes that he was going to control this game,” said Trail Blazers’ Head Coach Nate McMillan. “Tonight was Brandon Roy of old. He took the game on his shoulders and just carried the team and willed the team to a win.”
Roy was magical. He was deadly, a silent assassin at work. Bucket after bucket dropped in and a crowd that laid on a Gurney bed lifeless had been revived.
Hope refilled the arena.
The pressure started knocking on Dallas’ door as Portland’s defense tightened up and forced turnovers. Roy’s heroic comeback wouldn’t have meant anything without stops. So the Trail Blazers turned up the pressure together.
“I was just trying to tell the guys, let’s go hard, go all out for five possessions at a time,” said LaMarcus Aldridge. “I thought we all just put it out on the line and it paid off.”
“Our fans were unbelievable again in the fourth quarter for us,” said McMillan. “But we did things to get them out of their seats.”
Roy, who scored 12 of his 18 fourth-quarter points in the final four minutes, told his teammates, “let’s push and try to put pressure on them, and keep putting pressure on them to see if we can give ourselves a chance.”
Roy led all scorers with 24 points in a thrilling 84-82 come-from-behind win
to even the series 2-2 and throw the pressure back on the Mavs, heading into Monday’s Game 5 tipoff
in Dallas at 5:30 PM.
“We evened out the series,” said Roy. “It’s 2-2 and I think we’ve got some pressure on them now.”
That’s all Portland wanted to do was handle business at home to shift the pressure back on Dallas to see if they would stumble. Hopefully, again.
“We’ve been through tough losses before,” said Mavs’ Head Coach Rick Carlisle. “It’s not easy, but for us, we’ve got to get back on the plan, back home and study some things that went wrong. The turnaround time is not real great, so we’re going to have to get back and get ready to play on Monday night.”
Unquestionably, Game 5 has turned into Dallas’ most vulnerable matchup in this first-round series. And Nowitzki knows the severity of going into Monday's matchup all tied up.
“There is a huge difference from being up 3-1 and 2-2,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who had 20 points for the Mavs on Saturday. “This is definitely up there with the most frustrating losses.”
Dallas has dropped two in a row and it only has one shot at American Airlines Arena before heading back to Portland for Game 6.
As much as Nowitzki believes the Mavs just “have to shake it off,” Saturday’s loss may have rattled Dallas harder than he expected.
“I’m going to take the blame for a lot of that,” said Carlisle after the loss. “There are different things that we could have done…It’s disappointing and everything, but the NBA season has a lot of highs and lows.”
Right now the Trail Blazers are riding that high. They’re inspired. They've fought for the chance to escape the first round. And they're better prepared to walk into Dallas to grab the series lead for a shot at closing it out on their home court.
How will Portland play tonight? And how will Dallas deal with the pressure of Game 5?