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Roy returns to All-Star form just in time for Blazers

by | CBSSports.com

PORTLAND, Ore. -- "It still just doesn't feel real yet."

Portland Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy had every reason to believe he was dreaming after 12 minutes of the most improbable basketball game the NBA has seen this postseason. His head was spinning after saving his team from the brink of elimination. His mind was struggling to wrap itself around the fact that his performance Saturday afternoon was forcing Portland's fans and Blazers brass alike to recalibrate their expectations for his future.

Before they got ahead of themselves, though, they first thought of the past.

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"Tonight was the Brandon Roy of old," Blazers coach Nate McMillan said following his team's 84-82 comeback win over the Dallas Mavericks in Game 4, a victory that knotted their first-round playoff series at two games apiece. "He took the game on his shoulders and just carried the team, willed the team to a win. In the fourth quarter, I saw the Brandon of old in the sense that he wasn't passing the ball. He was going to take the shot and he was going to live with the result whether he made it or missed it."

There weren't many misses down the stretch.

McMillan's Blazers erased a 23-point Dallas lead in the final 14 minutes, becoming just the third team in the shot-clock era to win a playoff game after entering the fourth quarter trailing by 18 or more points.

Blazers GM Rich Cho, known for his analytical approach to the game, isn't usually prone to hyperbole.

"That was the best comeback I've ever seen," Cho said.

The run started with a Roy 3-pointer in the final minute of the third-quarter, his first basket of the game. From there, he hit eight of his 10 fourth-quarter shots, scoring 18 points, including nine in the final 1:36. Roy's four-point play with just over a minute left pulled Portland even with the Mavs, and a banked-in jumper with 39 seconds left gave the Blazers their winning margin.

Roy finished with 24 points, his biggest scoring night since Dec. 10. He singlehandedly outscored Dallas in the fourth quarter, 18-15, and accounted for more points than Portland scored as a team in the first and third quarters. "I've been in some pretty good zones before, but none like tonight," Roy said.

He was mobbed by his teammates after a potential game-winning 3-pointer by Jason Terry rimmed off at the final buzzer. "They were grabbing me. I just needed to embrace someone," Roy said. "With everything I've been through this season ... the guys were grabbing me and cheering me on, it was special."

Blazers forward Nicolas Batum said he was having flashbacks.

"You're an All-Star, a three-time All-Star," Batum said, describing his thought process down the stretch. "Take the ball. They can't stop you. You just have to believe in yourself."

Confidence has been a bugaboo for Roy in recent weeks, but not in Game 4. The Mavericks had no answer for him defensively, and Roy took advantage. Dallas elected to single-cover him with Shawn Marion, whom Roy made look like he was on a yo-yo string. Roy's dribble fakes had Marion back on his heels and he created space for his jumpers at will.

"He got on a roll in the fourth and made some things happen," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "I'm going to take the blame for a lot of that. There are different things defensively that we could have done. We should have done some different things."

Remarkably, Roy's explosion was only just enough to bring the Blazers back, as they dug themselves a gigantic hole due to some horrific offense. Portland scored 11 points in the first quarter and went more than 10 minutes of the third without making a field goal. Portland trailed 67-44 with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter.

"I thought we were feeling sorry for ourselves and we had to play the game and get aggressive, get stops and at least get a rhythm," McMillan said. "So was it over? No, we had 12 minutes. You knew that it was going to be tough to come back, but as you can see, anything is possible."

The implications of Portland's win -- both short-term and long-term -- are significant. Most immediately, the Blazers avoid returning to Dallas down 3-1. Given their play in Texas in Games 1 and 2 and the fact that they lost both games to the Mavericks in Dallas during the regular season, the win represents a reprieve on what would have been a death sentence.

"It's huge," Blazers guard Wesley Matthews said. "We took care of business. We feel like the pressure is off of us right now. They won their two at home, we won our two at home. Our confidence is high. Now we've got to go steal one on the road."

"You look at it in sum, it's a game you shouldn't lose," Carlisle said. "At this point it's not about talk. At this point we have to get ourselves ready to play Game 5, which is now a very pivotal game in our arena. We need our fans to be like these fans were out here."

Bigger than what the win means for this series is what it means for Roy's future prospects. With four years remaining on what was a maximum contract, some segments of Portland's fan base had begun to view Roy -- and his contract -- as a hindrance rather than an asset. While Roy has maintained recently that his struggles are mental, his recent play often suggested there was a physical element as well.

One game can't alter the course of a career. Or can it? A return to All-Star form never seemed more possible than it did Saturday, when Roy's lift looked good, his balance was on-point and his self-confidence reached a high-water mark. His heroics had the Rose Garden at its loudest in years, and cheering in the concourses could be heard throughout the duration of the post-game media availability.

"Sometimes we can't hear each other on defense," Batum said. "We're like, 'I called a screen.' Then, 'I didn't hear you.' It's too loud. This crowd is just unbelievable. That was crazy."

Portland's locker room was nearly as jubilant as the concourse, and Cho emerged with a wide smile, shaking his head and saying Roy's play left him speechless.

"He's shown flashes. He had a great game against Denver earlier this year. But it's great to see the Brandon of old."

Batum put it more bluntly, speaking as much about the future as about the past or present. "We believe in him. We believe in B-Roy."


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