Even though he won’t be playing, the thought of returning to his old home at the Rose Garden in Portland is stirring the emotions in Brandon Roy.
Knee injuries have put his attempted comeback with the Minnesota Timberwolves on ice after just five games this season, just as his bad knees ended his time with the Portland Trail Blazers after five years. But at least he is traveling with the Timberwolves on this trip, something he didn’t do when the team visited Portland for the first time on Nov. 23.
“I’m excited to go back,” Roy said after the Timberwolves lost to the Lakers in Los Angeles Thursday night. “I don’t quite know how I’ll feel. I’m excited to go back and be in that building again. It was special. I had a lot of special moments there.”
None was more special than Game 4 of the 2011 first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks, when Roy scored 18 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Trail Blazers all the way back from a 23-point deficit for the win ... his last one in a Portland uniform.
That was my favorite performance by one of my favorite players, and this was the first time I had a chance to talk to him since I was glued to the television that day.
It didn’t take much to get Roy’s memories flowing and his eyes in that glassy “I reminisce, I reminisce” mode.
Prior to that fourth quarter, Roy’s biggest impact on the series came when he expressed his disappointment about playing only eight minutes in Game 2. The Mavericks won two of the first three games, sliding the Trail Blazers toward the offseason, prompting Roy to finally relax and let go.
“I just went into that game like, ‘Who cares?’” Roy said. “I was loose. I just played.”
Roy checked in for the final time with 4:46 remaining in the third quarter, and a short time later Peja Stojakovic made two 3-pointers in a minute and a half to put the Mavs ahead 67-44.
“A fan was like, ‘Roy, you ain’t doing nothing,’” Roy said. “I’m like ‘Man, I just got in the game, we’re down 23 points and it’s my fault? Whatever.’”
At the end of the quarter, Roy took a 3-pointer that rolled around the rim and bounced in with a second remaining, setting the stage for the epic comeback.
“Coming into the fourth quarter, I’m like, ‘I’m going to be aggressive,’” Roy said. “Shots just started falling. Then I got even more aggressive, started making plays. I got loose.”
Roy made catch-and-shoot jumpers, pullup shots, driving layups. He was unstoppable. The crowd roared, thrilled by the scoring exhibition, enticed by the possibility that their Blazers could actually pull this off.
“I got chills myself,” Roy said. “Going into the timeout, I kind of got goosebumps.
“The closer we got, I just said, ‘Man, there’s no way we’re going to lose this game.’”
Roy made a short jumper to put the Trail Blazers ahead, 84-82, with 39 seconds remaining, then watched as a Jason Terry 3-pointer missed at the buzzer.
It turned out to be Roy’s last great moment of the many he compacted into his five seasons there, beginning with his rookie of the year season in 2006-07. The Mavericks won the next two games to finish off the series and launch their improbable championship run. The damaged knees that had reduced Roy to a bench player forced him to retire after the lockout ended in 2011. The Trail Blazers used the amnesty provision to take the remaining $64 million on his contract off their books, and he sat out the season.
He dropped by the Rose Garden once, on March 20, 2012, to watch former Blazers teammate and fellow Seattleite Jamal Crawford play on Crawford's birthday, but he mostly stayed away from the NBA. And while he was out, Roy watched replays of the fourth quarter of Game 4 on his iPad ... well, let’s just say more than once.
“It wasn’t the same, because nothing will ever be like that moment,” Roy said. “I mean, fans were cheering, my teammates ... and I really thought I could make every shot.
“Then you hear how the announcers are calling it. That made it a little bit better. When you’re going through it, you don’t quite know what they’re saying about it.”
Looking back, he acknowledges some points even came on bad shots, ones he can’t believe he attempted.
“When you’re in that zone, you take those kind of shots,” Roy said.
Roy won’t be in the game, let alone in that zone, on Saturday. At least he will be in the building. He’s hopeful that he can play again this season, but with his future not guaranteed, 27 games remaining on the schedule and the injury-riddled Timberwolves about to miss the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season, this could be Roy’s last time in Portland as a player, even an inactive one.
“This,” he said, “will be a little different.”