By Kerry Eggers, for NBA.com
PORTLAND (NBA.com exclusive) -- Brandon Roy provided the emotional lift and some clutch plays in the end.
LaMarcus Aldridge came up big all game long.
And the Portland Trail Blazers are very much alive in their first-round playoff series with the Phoenix Suns.
Eight days after arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, Roy came off the bench to help the Blazers to a 96-87 victory over the Suns, evening the best-of-seven series at 2-2.
Aldridge - maligned for his ineffective play in the first three games - responded with his best career playoff performance, collecting 31 points and 11 rebounds.
Roy's return energized the sellout Rose Garden crowd of 20,151 and his teammates, who were buoyed by the presence of their captain.
"Having Brandon back helps tremendously," Aldridge said. The Suns "can't do some of the things they did to us early (in the series) with Brandon out there."
The decision to bring Roy back so soon after his April 16 surgery was made "after a long, sleepless night," Portland coach Nate McMillan said.
It was initially announced the three-time All-Star would be out one to two weeks, and that he would definitely miss the Phoenix series. But Roy's knee felt good right away, and the timetable "just kept moving up," McMillan said. "We talked about if we could get the series to a sixth game, possibly. Then up to possibly (Game 5)."
After a light 2-on-2 workout with teammates on Friday, Roy was convinced he was healthy enough to play, "but Coach (McMillan) really didn't want me to play," Roy said. "He was thinking long-term."
After a series of text messages between coach and player Friday night, McMillan consulted owner Paul Allen and general manager Kevin Pritchard. After assurances from team doctor Don Roberts - who performed the surgery - that Roy wasn't risking further injury by playing, McMillan gave him the green light.
When Roy entered Saturday's game with 4:06 left and Portland ahead 18-17, the ensuing thunderous roar was deafening in the Garden.
"I got chills when he got up and the crowd saw he was going to the scorer's table," McMillan said. "I know our players fed off of that, the emotions and the energy in the building and having him back."
Aldridge noticed something else.
"As soon as he checked into the game, I got my first shot with nobody guarding me," the 6-11 forward said. "It was like, 'thank God he's back.' "
Aldridge missed that shot, but made 11 of 19 attempts ? along with 9-of-12 from the foul line ? on a variety of shots from 18 feet on in.
"It wasn't so much the post-up play as it was the face-up jump shots he made," Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said. "With us trapping the screen-and-roll, he created separation and was able to catch and shoot. And on his postups, we fouled him. We can't have him shooting 12 free throws.
"He's not that type of post-up player. We have to do a better job defending him, and making him catch the ball a little bit out of his comfort zone."
Roy scored 10 points in 27 minutes on only 4-for-10 shooting. But he scored when it counted, knocking down a pair of big jump shots down the stretch to seal the win.
Amar'e Stoudemire led Phoenix with 26 points, but the performance of the other Sun stars were sub-par. Jason Richardson ? who burned Portland for 71 points as Phoenix routed the Blazers in Games 2 and 3 ? scored 15 points on 6-of-16 shooting. Steve Nash had 15 points and eight assists but also an uncharacteristic six turnovers. Grant Hill grabbed 12 rebounds but scored only nine points while making 3 of 10 shots.
Portland won the rebound battle 45-39, grabbing 12 off the offensive glass.
"That was the difference in the game," Gentry said.
The Blazers also beat the Suns at their own game, winning the fast-break points battle 16-4, along with second-chance points by a 17-5 margin.
"We finally got to playing basketball, scrapping," McMillan said. "We matched their intensity and challenged them. We were the aggressors.
"That's a really good team, and Nash is unbelievable as far as taking advantage of situations on the offensive end. They made plays, but we played with a lot of confidence. We didn't look tight. The execution and the defense were good. It was a 48-minute game for us."
Roy's return conjured memories of some iconic moments in NBA history, such as Willis Reed's Game 7 for the New York Knicks in the 1970 NBA Finals. On a local level, what came to mind was Kevin Duckworth's Game 7 for the Blazers in their 1990 Western Conference finals matchup with San Antonio.
Every two decades or so, it seems, something like that happens. It happened Saturday, and the Blazers took full advantage.
"You could see our guys were upbeat and like, 'Let's go, we have our main guy back,' " McMillan said. "Our guys were calm. We played the game we needed to play to win."