PORTLAND, Ore. (AP)—If the Trail Blazers demonstrated anything this season, it’s that they’re not about to let a little challenge throw them off.
Portland has become adept at surpassing expectations.
But the ultimate test of the team’s resolve will come Thursday night, when the Trail Blazers face elimination trailing 3-2 in their first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks.
“When you get in these loser-out games, sometimes everybody tries to do it all, and then you get out of character,” guard Brandon Roy(notes) said on Wednesday. “So the biggest thing tomorrow is that we stay in character and don’t panic if they get up two points or we’re up two. We need to play within our game plan like we’ve done all season, and we can beat this team.”
Perhaps nothing demonstrates the Blazers’ ability to deal with adversity more than their last win in the series. Down 67-44 in the third quarter, Roy led his team on a stunning comeback for an 84-82 Game 4 victory on Saturday.
Roy, a three-time All-Star who had been troubled by his knees all season and came on as a reserve, finished with 24 points—18 in the fourth quarter.
For Roy, there was satisfaction in the performance given what he had gone through.
In early December, it became apparent that something was amiss for Roy, the face of the franchise. It was later learned that the cartilage in both of his knees was so depleted that he was nearly playing bone-on-bone.
While the condition is something that will likely dog him for the rest of his career, Roy opted to have arthroscopic surgery on both knees in January. All told, he missed 35 regular-season games.
When Roy returned from surgery, LaMarcus Aldridge(notes) had taken over as the team’s top playmaker, and second-year guard Wesley Matthews(notes) had taken his spot in the starting rotation. Roy’s minutes were tightly controlled off the bench.
As they had with other key injuries—most notably to centers Greg Oden(notes) and Marcus Camby(notes)—the Blazers picked themselves up and moved on. They made the necessarily adjustments, and helped themselves by adding forward Gerald Wallace(notes) from Charlotte at the trade deadline, to wind up the sixth seed in the Western Conference.
Dallas, the third seed, took control of the series with a 93-82 victory at American Airlines Center on Monday night in Game 5. The Mavs caught the Blazers off guard with the emergence of Tyson Chandler(notes) and by going to the zone.
While the Mavericks have seen the steady play of Dirk Nowitzki(notes) all series long, they’ve also managed to compliment him with a different player each game, ranging from Jason Kidd(notes) to Peja Stojakovic(notes) and Jason Terry(notes), and finally Chandler, who had 14 points and 20 rebounds in Game 5.
The Mavericks are hoping to overcome their recent history of wilting in the playoffs.
Since the start of the 2006 NBA Finals—which the Mavs lost in seven games to Miami after taking a 2-0 series lead—Dallas has gone just 2-18 on the road in the postseason.
Dallas has been eliminated in the first round in three of the past four seasons.
“We know what we gotta do. We’re a veteran team. If we don’t have to play a Game 7, then we don’t want to play a Game 7,” forward Shawn Marion(notes) said. “That’s our mentality and that’s what we gotta do.”
The Blazers must improve in several areas—and quick. They’ve been unable to deal effectively with the Mavs’ pick-and-roll. They’ve sent Nowitzki to the free throw line too often. And, aside from Roy’s big breakout, they’ve seen too little noise from their own bench.
Portland has never overcome a 3-2 deficit to win a playoff series, and the team has been unable to get beyond the first round for the previous two seasons.
But they certainly have home court advantage.
The Trail Blazers have won each time the Mavs have visited their building this season, twice in the regular season and twice so far in the playoffs.
Portland has won 12 of its last 13 at the Rose Garden. Overall against the Mavericks, the Blazers are 46-18 all-time in Portland, and 8-1 in playoff games.
It’s likely that all eyes Thursday will be on Roy, and whether he can stage another comeback—this time not just to win a game, but to save a series.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that I’ve got to play well. And not only play well, I’ve got to be more aggressive,” Roy said. “When I’m more aggressive it puts pressure on Dallas’ defense to game plan and figure out how to stop me, and then I think it give other guys easier shots.
“My goal tomorrow is to go all-out and be as aggressive as I can.”