Posted Apr 24 2010 10:12PM
PORTLAND -- It was a simple decision for Brandon Roy.
Painters paint. Singers sing.
"I wanted to be in the game," he said.
It wasn't about being a hero, but being a teammate.
"I don't feel right sitting in the back watching," he said.
So it happened that with 4:06 left in the first quarter on Saturday afternoon, Roy pulled off his warm-ups and checked into the 2010 playoffs for the first time.
It had been 13 days since he'd injured his right knee in L.A. against the Lakers. It had been eight days since doctors had performed surgery to repair a torn meniscus. It had been two days since the Trail Blazers had been whipped for the second straight game by the Suns, embarrassed and even booed on their home floor.
There were no thorny boos from the Rose Garden crowd on this day. Not with the Blazers' best player back on the floor. Not with their season maybe hanging in the balance. Not with the theme from "Rocky" blaring from the loudspeakers as he made his way up the sideline to the scorer's table.
"No, I didn't quite hear the Rocky music," Roy said giggling. "I heard the fans. The biggest thing I had to keep telling myself was to just relax."
As the years and the decades go by, especially if Portland comes back to win the series, which is now even at 2-2, this 96-87 win by the Blazers will become a story and a legend that grows. It will fit somewhere between Willis Reed hobbling out of the tunnel at Madison Square Garden and Charlton Heston as the lifeless body of El Cid being propped up and tied to his stallion for the climactic battle against the Moors.
In the remake done for Hollywood, Brandon Balboa will prepare for the moment by swallowing cocktails of raw eggs for breakfast, pounding on sides of raw beef in a slaughterhouse and running triumphantly up the steps of an art museum. In truth, Rocky Roy's workout on Friday at the Blazers' practice facility consisted of playing full-court two-on-two with Patty Mills, Jeff Pendergraph and Dante Cunningham in a session that left coach Nate McMillan thoroughly unconvinced.
"His conditioning was really bad," McMillan said. "Basically, I said, 'No, you're not ready.' He was OK with it, he left, and then it was phone calls and text messages all night."
One can only imagine the text exchanges.
Roy: OMG, coach. I wanna play 4U.
Roy: Plz. I'll be your BFF.
They went back and forth all night and the star pressed McMillan again when he showed up early on Saturday morning. They got the trainers and the doctors and general manager Kevin Pritchard and even Blazers owner Paul Allen involved and in the end, Roy won his case.
His coach, as well as anyone, knew what Roy was feeling. McMillan, then a 10-year veteran in Seattle, sat out the first three games of The Finals with severe back spasms as his Sonics fell behind 3-0 to Michael Jordan and the Bulls. McMillan cajoled his way back into the lineup and was a key as the Sonics salvaged their pride by winning two straight games and forced the series to return to Chicago.
"All of these things went through my head," McMillan said. "You're thinking about the risk of him re-injuring himself coming back some would say too soon...I thought about myself when I played in the Finals and guys play with serious injuries. I think about Kobe (Bryant) with a broken finger. I remember no one was concerned about me when I had back spasms and couldn't walk.
"It was good for us tonight. We needed that lift, because the last two games have just been flat. We needed that lift. I just got chills when he got 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 -- having him back."
Roy made his first shot, a layup, then missed six of his next seven through 3 ½ quarters. But it was no coincidence that the first wide open shot without a double-team for LaMarcus Aldridge came a half-minute after Roy stepped onto the floor and commanded attention from the Suns' defense.
"Oh yeah, I was very happy to have Brandon back and not have two and three guys hanging all over me every minute," said Aldridge, who got 31 points and 11 rebounds.
And it was only fitting that the ball twice found its way into Roy's hands in the final five minutes when Phoenix was trying to resuscitate its flagging hopes. Boom! He nails a 3-pointer from the right wing to make it 85-79. Bang! He puts a shake-and-bake move on Jason Richardson and fades back for an 18-footer from the left side that virtually clinches it at 91-83 with 2:08 to go.
"It was about time I got my rhythm and made a couple of shots," he said.
His teammates shrugged.
"Big shots?" said Marcus Camby. "Brandon lives for those."
There had been no dramatic locker room moment before the game when McMillan or anyone else announced to the rest of the team that Roy would try to ride to their rescue.
"We're just all doing our own thing, getting ready in here, and I happened to look up and saw Brandon's uniform hanging in his locker. I just figured, 'That's it.' "
Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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