In Game 1, Brandon Roy made just one of seven shots from the field. He finished with two points. In Game 2, he didn’t score at all.
But as the Blazers returned home for Game 3, Roy checked in to a boisterous ovation from the Rose Garden faithful. And scoring 16 decisive points, Roy proved that the applause needn’t come from a place of pity—he still affects the Blazers’ bottom-line.
Going forward, a significant portion of the series hinges on Roy’s ability to maintain such a level.
“He was the difference tonight,” said coach Nate McMillan after the Blazers beat the Mavericks 97-92, Thursday at the Rose Garden, putting the series at 2-1. But McMillan went further.
“There’s nobody in the state—not even Brandon Roy—that wants to see him out on that floor as much as I do,” McMillan said. “He’s meant a lot to this organization. I certainly have not forgotten about him.”
Roy was equally emotional, though pumped up from the Blazers’ first win in a 2-1 series that now seems to have gained new life.
He talked about the emotions, having his parents in town, and a text from Charles Barkley that he got before the game.
Although the Blazers’ bench was outscored by the Mavericks’, 48-23, it was the first time in the series that Portland’s second unit didn’t leave the starters in a hole. The only member of the Blazers’ bench to finish with a negative +/- was Nicolas Batum (-1).
But Batum, along with Gerald Wallace, was responsible for the game’s most important run.
Both players entered the second-half scoreless, but combined for a 13-2 run that spanned from the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarter. It put the Blazers up by as many as 13 and finally gave them an opportunity to exhale—indeed, there were some tense moments early in the third quarter. Everyone sensed that the series could so easily be in jeopardy.
Afterwards, Roy was careful to curb his comments about the importance of his scoring as the series moves forward. LaMarcus Aldridge and Dirk Nowitzki, however, were both willing to be a bit more candid. The opposing power forwards and respective team leaders agreed: they would get theirs—the difference would come from the bench, role players, and unexpected offensive breakthroughs like Jason Kidd in Game 1, Peja Stojakovic in Game 2, and Roy in Game 3.
Continuing the run of relatively unlikely players coming through with points to put their respective teams over the hump, Wesley Matthews came out blazing.
Matthews nailed four three-pointers in the first quarter. He finished the period with sixteen, and had 23 by halftime.
In the second half, however, Matthews was mostly invisible on offense. His defense on Jason Kidd, however, impressed Nate McMillan as much as his hot shooting early.
“Tonight he did a good job of making Kidd work,” McMillan said. “When he locks in defensively, and allows the game to come to him offensively, he’s been really good this year. He did a good job of spacing and making them pay when they tried to clog and double-team the post.”
More unlikely than Matthews’ three-point barrage, however, was the invigorating defense of rookie Chris Johnson. Seeing his first meaningful minutes of the series, Johnson was responsible for two blocks and three rebounds. He played just seven minutes, but had a most substantial impact than the numbers show. He altered shots, and simply gave the Blazers defense a shot in the arm at the same time Wallace and Batum were rattling off the go-ahead run. Coach McMillan said that Johnson’s play Thursday has earned him more playoff minutes going forward.
But the Blazers’ first win in the series is not so much as a blueprint as it is simply a start. Portland’s bench must continue to hold their own, and still need to score more. Rudy Fernandez needs to make shots, but moreover, not be afraid to take them. Nicolas Batum must continue putting his head down and driving to the basket, forgoing all but the most wide-open threes. And Chris Johnson must continue using his length to disrupt Dallas’ attempts in the paint.
Overall, the Blazers must continue making shots from deep—they made 57% of their three-point attempts to Dallas’ 41%. Portland also needs to tighten up their pick and roll defense, which was better Thursday, but still needs work. There were a number of occasions the Blazers found themselves with bad match-ups down low, with guards trying to cover Nowitzki on the block, or having Aldridge chasing around JJ Barea.
But most of all, Brandon Roy must continue to produce. It’s going to make all the difference.