By Frank Hughes
April 24, 2010

With Brandon Roy channeling Willis Reed, the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Phoenix Suns 96-87 to tie their best-of-seven series at two games apiece. Roy was inspirational, for sure, and it was one of several factors that played into the outcome of this game.

Roy makes surprise return from surgery. Just eight days after surgery to repair a torn meniscus that he suffered in one of the Blazers' final regular-season games, Roy made the decision to return to the court. He said he woke up from surgery feeling great and has been able to work out every day since. "I'd feel terrible if was sitting in the back doing nothing," Roy said. "I just wanted to take some of the pressure off LaMarcus (Aldridge)." Roy clearly was not 100 percent; he was not as quick as he usually is and he was nowhere near as aggressive. He missed six of his first eight shots. However, with the game in the balance, Roy drained a three-pointer for which he was wide open, thanks to good ball rotation by his teammates, and then hit a step-back 16-footer that gave the Blazers a comfortable cushion. He totaled 10 points in 26 minutes. He said he feels good and anticipates being able to play the remainder of the series, which definitely changes the dynamics.

Aldridge scores a playoff career high. LaMarcus Aldridge got busy from the very beginning of the game, hitting two open jumpers early on. He never let up, doing a nice job of posting Suns power forward Amar'e Stoudemire and making spin moves to free himself en route to 31 points on 11-for-19 shooting. With Roy hobbled and Andre Miller garnering much attention thanks to his 31 points in Game 1, Aldridge needs more efforts like this if the Blazers hope to steal a first-round upset.

Juwan Howard looked like a Fab Fiver. The 16-year veteran said earlier this year the highlight of his lengthy career was the Washington Bullets' first-round playoff loss to the Chicago Bulls in 1997. That is a pretty long career for the best moment to have happened 13 years ago. But Howard may put this game right up there. In 17 minutes, Howard had seven rebounds -- five offensive -- and eight points, making him look once again like the baggy-shorts-wearing kid who had played alongside Chris Webber and Jalen Rose at Michigan. As much as Roy was inspirational, the indefatigable Howard confounded the Suns for much of the afternoon.

Steve Nash looked human. Nash usually makes such wonderful decisions that the beauty of his game is taken for granted. So when he throws up a clunker like he did on Saturday, it stands out. Remember his 16-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in Game 2? Nash had six turnovers in Game 4, offset by his eight assists. He started the game with five shots early in the first quarter and appeared to be ready to play a significant role. Then he inexplicably disappeared. He was not aggressive offensively. He was not able to exploit Portland's interior. And he had the ball stolen on several occasions that were very uncharacteristic.

Nate McMillan makes lineup change. The Portland coach removed Rudy Fernandez from the starting lineup and inserted Phoenix native Jerryd Bayless into the starting backcourt alongside Miller. Fernandez and McMillan have had issues all season regarding Fernandez's playing time, and this is not likely to make things any better. But for this game at least, it gave the Blazers a different look, with two ballhandlers in the starting rotation and Bayless a much better defensive player. Fernandez's biggest value is as a three-point shooter but beyond that he does not offer as much as Bayless. Fernandez played only eight minutes in Game 4, while Bayless was on the floor for 24 minutes and had 11 points, six assists and two rebounds. Shrewd move.

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