I’m not going to say Brandon Roy coming back eight days after surgery was the greatest moment in history—sports or otherwise—but to put it in hyperbole-free perspective it was like Willis Reed carrying Kirk Gibson on his back as he stormed the beach at Normandy to dunk on Hitler.
Yeah, it was that good.
What started as a day that saw yet another Blazer go down (Dante Cunningham with a stomach bug) quickly turned into the announcement that Roy would dress and be listed as active for the game. From there the rumor mill started swirling (Would he play? Would he start? Didn’t his leg just fall off eight days ago?), and ultimately Roy came off the bench for what proved to be an emotional push that helped the Blazers even this series at two games apiece. And while Roy’s return will no doubt be the subject of every article written about the Blazers in the next few days, it was the Blazer’s stifling defense that truly stole the show, holding the Suns offense to a meager 87 points. You read that right. 87. This was the Suns’ worst offensive effort since January 23rd, 2009.
Phoenix held tough in the first half. Despite a Rose Garden crowd that was amped and ready to will the Blazers to victory—and a Blazer team led by an active LaMarcus Aldridge that had no intent of getting blown out for the third consecutive game—the Suns managed to keep it close. Aldridge was looking for his shot often and early, attacking the basket and not waiting around for the double-team as he did in the previous two efforts. The result? A 15 point first half. To put that in perspective, he had two points TOTAL in the first halves of games two and three combined. But for every time the Blazers seemed to be gaining momentum, the Suns had an answer, like a few clutch Leandro Barbosa threes to keep the game in check. The end result was a 54-50 halftime lead for the Blazers.
The second half started like the previous game ended—with Jason Richardson finding himself wide open and draining a couple of three pointers. The collective groan from the Rose Garden—who had seen this happen before—was thankfully short-lived, as Jerryd Bayless provided a much needed scoring punch, hitting a couple of huge buckets off of penetration and even flexing his muscles a bit. He also landed a hard flagrant foul on Jason Richardson as he stopped a dunk in transition, and though it led to a mini-spurt by the Suns, it was nice to see a Blazer team ready to be the aggressor and shove back. They got tough exactly at the right time—when the fourth hit.
Even though the Blazers managed to miss 11 straight field goals going back to the end of the third, and failed to score their first bucket until the 7:36 mark of the fourth, Portland didn’t give up their lead. Period. They Suns were incapable of regaining the advantage from an ice cold Blazer team due to Portland’s stupendous defense. The Suns scored twice in a row with the Steve Nash to Amare Stoudemire pick and roll, and rather than try and get any role players involved (Blazer Killer Richardson had zero field goal attempts in the fourth), the Suns were content to try exploit the Blazers inside with Stoudemire—which, to be fair, had been pretty successful up until that point. But the Blazers changed up defensive assignments, with Nicolas Batum covering Nash and Aldridge covering Amare, and when the pick and roll came, the two switched. This worked like a charm, as the length between the pair Blazers caused havoc, resulting in a few crucial turnovers by Nash, one of which (a steal from Marcus Camby) led to a fast-break flagrant foul on Batum by Channing Frye.
The Suns couldn’t deal with the overly-aggressive Blazers down the stretch, and ultimately fell short, recording only 37 points after the half. All credit is due to the Blazers defense, and the glacially-slow pace, for that. Avin Gentry said such, pointing to turnovers and the slowed-down pace in the fourth as how the game got away from them:
Aldridge deserves the game ball for this one, recording a double-double with 31 points and 11 rebounds. Although he looked more active, attacking the basket and demanding the ball in the post, Roy deserves decoy credit (that’s like a game ball, but made out of foam). In the previous two games, the Suns were able to double team Miller and Aldridge effectively because the ghost of Rudy Fernandez was not a presence on the floor. With Roy in the lineup, he kept the defense honest, and the result was more open looks for Aldridge, and more driving lanes for Miller and Bayless.
Roy’s stat line at the end of the night was modest, but his impact was crucial. This was a needed win for the Blazers, and one that they have got be feeling pretty good about right now.
-Rudy Fernandez Death Watch ‘10: Rudy was pulled from the starting lineup this game (with the nod going to Jerryd Bayless instead), and didn’t log a single second half minute. Of all the players to see the court, from both teams, Rudy saw the least minutes. Yes, Amundson’s ponytail got more playing time than Rudy.
-The Suns only logged four fastbreak points to Portland’s sixteen.
-Quote of the night: “Thank God, he’s back.” (Aldridge discussing Roy’s return.)
-The Blazers had six more rebounds (5 of which were offensive), 6 more made free throws, and four less turnovers. That right there was the ballgame.