PORTLAND, OR -- "Tough times don't last, tough people do."
Those were the words of encouragement from a high school friend that Portland Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy recited at his locker Thursday night, putting a stamp on an emotional 72 hours that saw him complain about his playing time, apologize to Blazers fans and then deliver in a huge way in a must-win Game 3.
Roy wasn't Portland's leading scorer and he wasn't at full All-Star form, but he was a crucial spark for the Blazers, who defeated the Dallas Mavericks, 97-92, to earn their first win of the first-round playoff series. He entered the game to a standing ovation from the Rose Garden crowd and exited to boisterous cheers, his 16 points and four assists a major deciding factor in another tightly fought, back-and-forth affair. Thursday's happy ending came only after a trying few days for Roy, whose laments about Blazers coach Nate McMillan's substitution patterns after Portland lost Game 2 in Dallas led to a great debate in Portland. Some fans felt as if Roy was putting himself before the team, while others felt he had a point, that he should be playing more.
Roy maintains that he shuts out all of those voices, instead choosing to surround himself with his family. But there was one voice that was able to get through to him.
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"Charles Barkley texted me on my way to the arena," Roy said with a wide smile. "He just said, 'Keep your head up, have fun out there, and stay positive.' I appreciate it so much to know that so many people care."
McMillan, for his part, was happy to see the confidence in Roy's jumper and the smoothness to his dribble moves return. "Not even Brandon Roy wants to see him out on that floor as much as I do," McMillan said. "He can still produce. Tonight I thought he was solid."
Roy's 16 points qualify as a scoring explosion, given he scored just two points in Games 1 and 2 combined.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said he knew Roy was capable of providing the bench scoring Portland had been lacking. "We continue to game plan for Roy as an All-Star player because he's capable of doing this any night. He's done it to us this year, so I'm not surprised."
Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who has emerged as the No. 1 scoring option this season as Roy has battled knee injuries, enjoyed seeing the three-time All-Star playing with rhythm. "I thought he had his swag back tonight. He was a little bit more loose, going through his legs more. He was big for us tonight."
Lost in the dramatics of Roy's big night was a spectacular first quarter for the man who replaced him in the starting lineup: Wesley Matthews. Matthews scored 25 points on 8-for-12 shooting and had 16 first-quarter points, the most a Blazer has scored in the playoffs in a quarter since 2003. He also set the tone defensively, aggressively guarding Dallas's high screen-and-rolls and coming up with two steals.
Aldridge, who finished with 20 points and four rebounds, singled out Matthews as the difference-maker. "I think every game in this series the team that's won it has had someone play really, really well. Tonight it was Wesley ... In the first two games, they were just clogging [the paint], I couldn't get to the middle. Him making his shots just opened it up for everybody."
Matthews was just happy to get things going, having averaged just 7.5 points per game in the series' first two games. "We just got fired up and it was a must-win for us and we took care of it."
Portland took care of Game 3 by winning the turnover battle decisively, scoring 16 points off of 16 Dallas turnovers after the Mavericks had committed a season-low six in Game 2.
"[That was] big because they don't turn the ball over," McMillan said. "I thought our pressure was good. It started with Wesley picking the ball up. Our pick-and-roll defense was much better tonight. Our bigs were up and being much more aggressive and at times we mixed in some traps and Dallas does a good job of taking care of the ball. Tonight we were able to force those turnovers and convert them into points."
"Our problems began at the beginning of the game, where we got off to a very poor start and their aggressiveness put us on our heels," Carlisle explained. "It was a series of things that didn't go well for us. Their level of aggression was the biggest thing that influenced the game."
That aggression allowed the Blazers to sustain a huge night from Mavericks guard Jason Terry, who finally put his stamp on this series with 29 points on 10 of 13 shooting, and another 20-plus point performance from All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki. The Terry/Nowitzki and Matthews/Aldridge pairs essentially cancelled each other out, leaving Roy to nudge Portland over the top.
"It was a lot of emotions but my thing was to go out there and play within myself," Roy said. "I wasn't nervous because the fans were really supportive. They were cheering for me before I even entered the game. That was really big for me. We've been through a lot together."
On a night filled with words of encouragement, Roy got one final line from Aldridge as he exited the locker room.
"Way to hoop, B."