The Phoenix Suns had a chance to go for the jugular this afternoon.
Instead they watched Brandon Roy pull a Willis Reed, as the Portland Trail Blazers evened the series 2-2 with a 96-87 victory.
As much as it feels like Phoenix has dominated the series, despite outscoring the Blazers by 34 overall this series is all knotted up in the only unit of measurement that really matters.
The Blazers rode the emotional surge delivered by Roy’s return to this victory. Roy, originally ruled out for the series, was a shell of the All-Star who averaged 21.5 ppg during the regular season, but you can’t quantify what it means for Portland to get its major general back.
The crowd cheered his every move, exploding when Roy got up to check in midway through the first with Phoenix leading 17-10. Before he could even get into the game the Blazers scored eight unanswered off that emotional high capped by a Nic Batum three for the lead.
For the game Roy scored just 10 points on 4-for-10 shooting with just one board and one assist in 27 minutes of action. Those aren’t Brandon Roy numbers on any planet, and he missed a number of jumpers and wasn’t nearly as explosive as a healthy B-Roy would be.
With that being said, he was still the cold-blooded killer he normally is by nailing a dagger of a three-pointer to put the Blazers up six with five minutes to go. After that, the Suns never again were within a possession of the lead.
After Game 3, I would not have been surprised if this thing ended in five because the Blazers just looked demoralized. Plus, Phoenix made the necessary adjustments before Game 2 to kind of have Portland figured out.
Adding Roy to the equation changes everything. Although he scored only 10 points, his very presence prevents Phoenix from being able to load up on LaMarcus Aldridge and shut down Andre Miller with just and .
The Suns maybe weren’t afraid of Jerryd Bayless, Rudy Fernandez, Martell Webster and a gimpy Nicolas Batum beating them. But they are certainly afraid of Brandon Roy beating them.
“As soon as he checked in the game, I got my first open shot with nobody guarding me,” Aldridge told reporters. “Having him out there, it’s big for us. Any second, he can get going. I was happy to see him out there. I think now, it’s a little bit easier. He is going to have his rhythm back the next game. They can’t do some things they were doing earlier without Brandon out there.”
In my Game 4 preview, I wondered what adjustments Portland could even make to counter what the Suns did to them in Games 2 and 3. As it turns out, Nate McMillan had the ultimate trump card in his pocket.
The question of the day was whether Brandon Roy was making an informed decision or taking a crazy risk by playing. I’m not going to pretend to be a doctor, but the Portland thinking seems to be that he feels good and he can’t re-injure it further. After all, we’re talking about a meniscus, not an ACL.
Still, I can’t help but wonder what kind of risk Roy’s putting himself at to suffer a corresponding injury. Maybe he can’t further hurt his meniscus, but maybe he injures something else by overcompensating. It’s not like the Blazers have had especially good luck with injuries this year anyway, right?
To me, this seems like an awful big risk to take to win a first-round series in a year in which it doesn’t look like you can make a deep run. Portland has such a great young core that its time will come, so why rush back your franchise player? Then again, I’m not a doctor, and if Roy comes through this thing OK then more power to him.
Of course, this wasn’t all about Brandon Roy, this was also about the Blazers controlling tempo and slowing down Phoenix’s high-flying offense, limiting the Suns to four fast-break points just like they did in Game 1. Thus far the team that has dictated tempo has won every game, regardless of whose floor it was played on, and today was no exception.
The Suns scored just 37 points in the second half, including just 15 in the fourth quarter, and they couldn’t take advantage of a stretch of the second half in which the Blazers missed 12 shots in a row.
“For us, the difference in the game was that we didn’t play with the energy that we really needed to to beat this team, and if you don’t, you struggle against them,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry told reporters. “I thought we had the pace of the game where we need to have it at the start, in the first quarter and even in the second quarter, but we ended up with 37 in the second half. You won’t be able to beat this team doing that.”
Phoenix shot 43.4 percent for the game and hit just 6-of-23 from deep (26.1 percent). We all know how important the three ball is for the Suns, and tonight they just weren’t falling.
Furthermore, Amare Stoudemire’s 26 points made him Phoenix’s only 20-point scorer, and onlyand joined him in double figures. But even they played sub-par games with Nash going for 15 and eight (to go with six turnovers) and J-Rich 15 on 6-for-16 shooting. Again, we see how different this Suns team is when Richardson isn’t scorching the nets.
All that being said and considering Portland also won the battle of the boards (45-39), it’s amazing that the Blazers didn’t blow the Suns out, especially when factoring in the emotional boost from Roy’s return. Nobody on Portland besides Aldridge really killed the Suns, and despite Portland also being the more desperate team, this was really a close game throughout.
Taking the long view, the Suns came to Portland and accomplished what they wanted to by stealing Game 3. And really, saying they stole it is like saying Michael Jordan was an OK basketball player. They thoroughly dominated it to the extent I almost didn’t expect the Blazers to even take the court again in Game 4.
The Suns are still in the driver’s seat, but what today did was give the Blazers hope that they can still pull this thing out. The series is tied two apiece despite how well Phoenix played in Games 2 and 3, and Portland knows Roy will keep getting better and better as the series progresses.
So the Suns blew their chance to step on Portland’s throat, but as Jared Dudley tweeted, “Wish we could of stole that one.. But we came up here and got our home court advantage back.”
Yes, this was a successful trip, and the Suns should still feel good about their odds of winning the series now that they can do it without winning a game away from downtown Phoenix.
But with the series now tied and Brandon Roy back, we should all stop thinking about Dallas and San Antonio for a few minutes