Notebook: McMillan, Roy make a major decision over the phone

PORTLAND — It started with phone calls. Then it transferred to text messages.

Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy strongly felt that his surgically repaired right knee was ready to go, and the three-time All-Star desperately wanted to take the court Saturday afternoon during Game 4 against the Phoenix Suns at the Rose Garden.

Roy had missed Games 1-3 while recovering from right knee surgery he underwent April 16 to repair a torn meniscus. But after running through a 2-on-2 session Friday, Roy was certain that his time had arrived.

Roy eventually got his way, giving Portland a major emotional lift that helped carry the Blazers to a 96-87 victory over the Suns in a Western Conference first round playoff series.

Portland’s victory evened the series at 2-2, and ensured the Blazers would return to the Rose Garden at least one more time this season.

But before Roy could suit up, he first had to convince Blazers coach Nate McMillan. And then McMillan would have to convince general manager Kevin Pritchard and owner Paul Allen.

So, Roy started calling and texting McMillan Friday night. The messages were simple and direct. But also passionate.

At 8 p.m, Roy typed away, stating, “Coach, I think I should play.”

Then: “Even if I can’t play 35 minutes, I can play 15-20 minutes and help.”

Next, Roy upped the ante.

“I said, ‘Coach, I’m fine. I can play. And I just don’t feel right sitting in the back, watching it,’ ” Roy recalled telling McMillan.

Once McMillan received those words, he knew he had a major decision to make. One that could greatly improve Portland’s chances of evening a Western Conference first-round playoff series against the Suns, and possibly advancing to the second round for the first time since 2000.

But one that also had the potential to negatively impact the future of the Blazers’ franchise, should Roy reinjure his surgically repaired knee.

So, McMillan contemplated both sides.

He was well-versed in the history of professional athletes playing with pain, particularly during the playoffs. McMillan had battled serious back spasms during the 1996 NBA Finals, while representing the Seattle SuperSonics in a losing effort against the Chicago Bulls. And he reflected on more-current examples, such as Los Angeles Lakers All-Star guard Kobe Bryant taking the court while dealing with a broken finger.

Moreover, McMillan knew how badly Roy wanted to play. And he had watched Phoenix load up on and double team Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge and Andre Miller during Games 1-3, with Roy out of the lineup.

“If I feel like I can play, then I’m not going to waste any games,” Roy said.

But by late Friday evening, McMillan still was not convinced playing Roy was the right call. The Blazers’ star guard had appeared healthy during a 2-on-2 session with Jeff Pendergraph, Dante Cunningham and Patty Mills. And while Roy’s knee looked fine, his conditioning was not.

“A long, sleepless night,” McMillan said.

A Saturday morning shootaround changed everything, though. Roy ran hard through pregame drills. Meanwhile, Portland’s team doctors and lead athletic trainer Jay Jensen told McMillan that the $82-million face of the franchise could not further injure his knee if he took the court.

About an hour before tipoff, though, a decision about Roy’s status still had not been made. And during a pregame interview, McMillan said there was a “shot” Roy could play in Game 5 — Game 4 was not even an option.

Then everything changed. Roy was placed on Portland’s active roster 30 minutes before the start of the contest. During the interim, McMillan had spoken with Pritchard and Allen, and both had given Roy the greenlight.

“We agreed to let him go,” McMillan said. “He would have been really bothered if he didn’t have the opportunity to play in this game.”

Roy’s teammates learned of his activation while running through pregame warmup drills.

The Natural then finally took the court for the first time against the Suns in the playoffs with 4 minutes, 6 seconds left in the first quarter.

An energetic buzz ran through the arena when Roy made his way toward center court, waiting to be substituted for Nicolas Batum.

And when Roy walked onto the Rose Garden floor, a standing ovation and the playing of the theme song from “Rocky” followed.

“The last two games, we have just been flat. And we needed that lift,” McMillan said. “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.”

Showing rust

While Roy re-energized the Blazers, he acknowledged that he still has a long way to go before he returns to All-Star form.

Roy said his knee felt “fine” during the game, and he did not notice any soreness afterward. He added that he will definitely play in Game 5, which is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Monday at US
Airways Center in Phoenix.

But Roy finished with 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting, and scored just five points through the first three quarters.

Eight days separated Roy’s surgery with his activation Saturday. He was originally ruled out of the first-round series. Then his timeline was slimmed down to 1-2 weeks following a successful

But Roy’s conditioning is still a work in progress, and he initially showed signs of rust due to his downtime.

“I didn’t quite hear the ‘Rocky’ music. But I heard the fans. But the biggest thing was, I had to keep telling myself to relax,” Roy said. “I didn’t want to go out there and tire myself by going too fast and playing up to the hype. … But I had to keep telling myself — I even felt a little jittery.”

Urgent matters

Portland guard Jerryd Bayless replaced Rudy Fernandez in the starting lineup for Game 4.

Fernandez started Games 1-3 while filling in for Roy. But the second-year guard struggled with the weight of his new role, shooting just 35.3 percent (6 of 17) from the field. Fernandez then recorded only three points Saturday in 8:35 as a reserve.

McMillan said Bayless got the nod because Portland needed to push the tempo and play with a greater sense of urgency. In addition, McMillan wanted another ballhandler on the court — Bayless’ primary position is point guard, and he started 11 games during the regular season.

“He’s done a good job of attacking; getting to the basket,” McMillan said.

McMillan felt Bayless’ insertion into the starting lineup would allow Portland to get into its offensive sets quicker. And
McMillan hoped Bayless would be able to pressure Phoenix starting point guard Steve Nash.

Bayless did just that Saturday, finishing with 11 points and six assists in 24:48.

“He has done a good job of bringing some scrappiness to the floor,” McMillan said. “I think right now, we need that. We need to get after this team. We can’t sit back and wait to see what they’re going to do.”

Back again

Blazers forward Nicolas Batum was back in the starting lineup Saturday.

Batum left Game 3 after reinjuring his right shoulder, which he originally hurt during Game 2. Preseason surgery on the same shoulder forced Batum to miss 45 games during the regular season.

Following Portland’s victory over the Suns in Game 4, McMillan confirmed what many had thought: Batum’s shoulder is hanging by a

“Nicolas was probably in a worse situation than Brandon, with his shoulder possibly being able to be dislocated,” McMillan said. “It was a bigger risk for Nicolas to be out there than Brandon.”

Batum recorded 10 points and seven rebounds Saturday, and is averaging 11.0 points during the series.

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