Brandon Roy was the difference.
That and uninspired play by the hottest team in the NBA at the end of the regular season.
But this is the playoffs, and Roy, who had knee surgery just eight days before, was miraculously back in a Portland uniform, and it was the superstar swingman who boosted his team to a 96-87 victory over the cooled-off Suns on Saturday afternoon to even the series at 2-2.
The crowd went crazy at the Rose Garden when Roy -- who lit up the Suns for 42 points in a game last season -- came out of the dressing room for game four of the first-round series. He didn't start, and he didn't do anything magnificent; he just played steady basketball, scoring 10 points in 27 minutes.
Roy is the emotional leader of the Blazers, and his presence clearly inspired his team, whose backs were against the wall.
Phoenix could've won the game. There were 13 lead changes and 11 ties, and the Suns were in it until the last few minutes of the fourth quarter. Then Roy hit a three-pointer with five minutes left and then a two with two minutes left, and the Suns were left in Portland's wake.
The real star of the game wasn't Roy, though. He was Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who put in 31 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Aldridge's Phoenix counterpart, Amar'e Stoudemire, was right behind him with 26 points, and Grant Hill was the game's rebounding leader with 12.
So how did this happen? Phoenix had pulverized Portland in the previous two games here, after narrowly losing the first game at US Airways Center. There's plenty of blame to go around, but the lion's share must go to Phoenix's team leader, Steve Nash.
Nash scored 15 points and had eight assists, but instead of carrying the team on his shoulders, as he's so often done, he had six of the Suns' 11 turnovers -- two of them late in the fourth period when the game was in the balance.
It was the worst game we've seen him play in months.
He was unable to inspire his guys to jump on the Blazers from the start, as they'd done in the last two games. The two teams pretty much traded baskets all game long, neither able to mount more than a six-point lead -- until it really mattered near the end of the game.
We had to wonder what was going through Coach Alvin Gentry's mind, as he kept Nash on the floor during crunch time, when the two-time MVP clearly wasn't feeling it. Coach, this is do or die -- even Steve Nash needs to be benched when he's having (for him) a very bad afternoon.
His backup, Goran Dragic, played only nine minutes in the game but should've played more. Though Gentry might not be able to count on the second-year NBA pro for the desperation baskets that Nash often hits, he's a sure-handed point guard who plays much better defense than Nash.
It'll be interesting to see if Gentry returns to his normal rotation in game five tonight. We pray that he does, because whatever he was doing in Portland didn't work.
Charles Barkley was highly critical of Coach Nate McMillan and the Blazers organization on TNT for allowing Roy to come back so soon after what Roy himself described as serious surgery to repair a large tear in his right knee. Barkley worried that the team was jeopardizing their marquee player's future, when there's no way that the Blazers can go all the way this season.
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Despite the obvious risk, will McMillan continue to play Roy? We predict that he will, because with Roy, the Blazers have a chance to win this series. Without him, they'd already be all but toast.
Speaking of injured players returning, what about Robin Lopez?
Suns GM Steve Kerr said during the game that there's no way that back-injured starting center will be allowed to return in this series. Pity, because the Suns certainly could use him against the taller Trail Blazers. Replacements Jarron Collins and Channing Frye, neither of whom are inside scoring threats, didn't cut it on either end of the court in the latest loss.
Tipoff tonight is 7:30 p.m. TV: Fox Sports Net, TNT. Radio: KTAR 620. For more information, go to www.suns.com