Roy, McMillan 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.
But first, Roy 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. But 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 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 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.
“Right before the game … 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 taking the court for 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.
A 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. The emotions and the energy in the building, and having him back.”