It wasn’t exactly Willis Reed in Game 7 or Michael Jordan in Game 5, but Brandon Roy’s unexpected return from knee surgery is the jolt that will lift the Portland Trail Blazers to the second round.
Down 2-1 in their first-round NBA playoff series with the Phoenix Suns, and playing without their star player, Portland appeared headed for an early exit from the postseason after winning the opener in Phoenix.
Then Roy returned, eight days after having knee surgery for a torn meniscus, a day after lobbying his case to coach Nate McMillan via text message, and just in the knick of time for the Trail Blazers.
Roy came off the bench late in the first quarter to a standing ovation and with a sleeve on his right knee. He scored 10 points, including a key three-pointer late in the game, in a 96-87 series-tying victory in Game 4.
But more importantly, he provided the same things Reed and Jordan did in their improbable performances – inspiration.
Well, that and a little bit of misdirection.
With Roy in the game, even hobbled, Phoenix is forced to pay attention to him offensively, helping free up other Blazers for open scoring opportunities.
LaMarcus Aldridge was the biggest beneficiary of that, turning in 31 points and 11 rebounds.
Reed’s unexpected presence did much the same for teammate Walt Frazier in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. Reed, who had torn a muscle in his right thigh in Game 5 of the series, took an injection in his leg to dull the pain a bit and famously limped onto the court to a standing ovation at Madison Square Garden.
He scored the first two baskets of the game, and played just the first half, but his effort spurred his teammates to greater heights in a 113-99 title-clinching victory.
Frazier finished with 36 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists.
Jordan’s Game 5 performance in the 1997 NBA Finals was more of a solo act.
The star guard woke up in the middle of the night before the game, shaking and sweating, saying later: “I felt partially paralyzed.”
His teammates and coaches thought there was no way Jordan would play.
He did, of course, scoring 38 points in a 90-87 victory over Utah in one of the more memorable NBA playoff performances in history. The signature moment was not the three-pointer that put the Bulls up 88-85, giving him 15 points in the fourth quarter.
No, it came just after Jeff Hornacek missed a last-second three-point attempt for the Jazz, and the final buzzer sounded, and Scottie Pippen had to hold up his teammate, who looked as though he might collapse on the court.
These are the performances that stick with us, and though not quite as dramatic, Brandon Roy added his name to the list of superstars who’ve done the improbable to lift their teams to victory.
For the Trail Blazers, Roy’s presence will be enough to lift them to two more victories over the Suns and into the second round.
Reed Inspires Knicks to Victory, NBA
Roy Returns to Help Blazers Tie Series Against the Suns, NBA