Roy returns, recharged Blazers even the series
PORTLAND — Brandon Roy returned. And the Trail Blazers were back.
Lifted by the late addition of Roy to the active roster, Portland regained the form that had eluded the team during two consecutive blowout defeats.
Scrappy, energetic, resilient play — traits that carried the Blazers through an injury-plagued regular season — was evident from the opening tip.
And a No. 6-seed Portland team rode a wave of resurgence to down the No. 3 Phoenix Suns 96-87 Saturday afternoon during Game 4 of a Western Conference first-round playoff series at the Rose Garden before a sellout crowd of 20,151.
With the victory, the Blazers evened the best-of-seven matchup at 2-2.
Game 5 is set for 7:30 p.m. Monday at the US Airways Center in Phoenix.
Roy played more than 26 minutes as he took the court for the first time in the series, after recovering faster than expected from right knee surgery that was supposed to keep him sidelined through the first round.
He was more of a facilitator than a scorer, though, recording 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting.
But what Roy really did was recharge the Blazers.
“Thank God he’s back,” said Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored a game-high and set a playoff career high with 31 points. Aldridge added 11 rebounds and three assists, while shooting 9 of 12 from the free-throw line.
Forced to carry the weight as the Blazers’ No. 1 scoring option during Roy’s three-game playoff absence, Aldridge at times struggled in a starring role — one that saw him drawing double and triple teams throughout Games 1-3.
But the court opened up for Aldridge in Game 4. He took charge by posting up faster and using a quick first step to gain space. And while Roy drew attention and respect from Phoenix’s defense, Aldridge attacked.
“As soon as (Roy) checked in the game, I got my first open shot with nobody guarding me,” Aldridge said.
He added: “I was happy to see him out there. And I think now, it’s a little bit easier.”
Portland is also back in the series.
After falling by a combined 48 points during Games 2-3, the Blazers recaptured their performance from Game 1, when they defeated Phoenix on the road and significantly slowed down the run-and-gun Suns.
Portland held Phoenix to just four fast-break points — the same amount the Suns recorded in a Game 1 loss. And the Blazers limited Phoenix to only 15 points during a decisive fourth quarter.
Portland entered the final period leading 74-72.
But as Aldridge poured in 10 points, the Suns fell apart, committing six turnovers.
“We finally got to playing basketball; scrapping,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. “I thought we matched their intensity, which we’ve been talking about the last two games. And (we) challenged them. I felt like we were the aggressors. … I thought we played with lot of confidence. We didn’t look tight. I thought the execution was there. The defense was good. And it was a 48-minute game.”
Andre Miller scored 15 points and tied a game-high with eight assists to help guide the Blazers, while Jerryd Bayless added 11 points and Nicolas Batum contributed 10.
Amare Stoudemire scored a team-high 26 points and grabbed six rebounds for the Suns.
But Phoenix shot a series-low 26.1 percent (6 of 23) behind the 3-point line, while the Suns’ point total set a season low.
“We didn’t play with the energy that we really needed to to beat this team,” Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said. “And if you don’t, you struggle against them. … We ended up with 37 (points) in the second half — you won’t be able to beat this team doing that.”
Aldridge said the addition of Roy did not just help Portland even the series — it drastically improved the Blazers’ chances to advance to the second round for the first time since 2000.
Roy said he will play in Game 5. And with the Suns having to now account for and guard the three-time All-Star, the Blazers have found an opening.
“Having a game under his belt makes us a lot better,” Aldridge said. “I don’t feel like they can do some of the things that they did to us early without Brandon out there. I think he’s going to have his rhythm back next game, and we should be better.”
Portland’s victory ensured the Blazers will play at least one more game this season at the Rose Garden. Time and broadcast information are to be announced. Tickets go on sale at 2 p.m. Monday at blazers.com. … Bayless started in place of Rudy Fernandez, who scored three points and played just 8:35. … Roy came off the bench for the first time since Dec. 22, 2006, and for only the third time in his career. … Portland’s 74-72 lead at the end of the third quarter marked the first time during the series the Blazers held an advantage heading into the final period. … Portland outscored Phoenix 16-4 in fast-break points.
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