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Friday, September 22, 2023
Sept. 22, 2023

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Blazers’ thermostat set on cool against Suns

Greg Jayne: Commentary

The Columbian

PORTLAND — Webster defines it as a “state of tranquility.” Then again, Webster never had to perform in front of 20,000 screaming fans.

So as the Trail Blazers took the court Saturday for Game 4 against the Phoenix Suns, facing essentially a do-or-die game for the sake of their season, coach Nate McMillan insisted that they remain calm.

That’s the word he uses.


As in, “We talk about our three C’s all the time — being calm, being clear on what we want to do, being consistent.”

Calm? Calm?!? As if a loss wouldn’t leave the Blazers needing to win three straight games — with two of them in Phoenix? As if the season didn’t boil down to this one Saturday afternoon in the Rose Garden?

Calm? It felt as though panic would be the more appropriate reaction.

So in a game that the Blazers absolutely had to win, it only seems fitting that they would turn to Brandon Roy. That the three-time NBA All-Star would return stunningly quickly from knee surgery. That Portland would receive an emotional lift en route to a 96-87 victory.

“I thought our guys were calm,” McMillan said afterward. “I thought we played with a lot of confidence; we didn’t look tight.”

Much of which can be attributed to Roy.

There’s a saying some coaches like to use: “Be a thermostat, not a thermometer.”

A thermostat regulates heat; a thermometer reacts to it. When the temperature goes up, so does the thermometer. Roy is the Blazers’ thermostat.

So while he was surprisingly added to the active roster shortly before the game, and his appearance in uniform elicited a huge ovation from the crowd, and his initial entry into the contest led to the “Rocky” theme being played over the sound system, Roy’s presence transcended his 10 points, one rebound, and one assist.

Roy initially got off the bench with about six minutes to play in the first quarter and the Blazers trailing 17-10. But Jerryd Bayless hit a 3-pointer, and Nicolas Batum followed with a dunk and a 3-pointer — all before Roy actually entered the game. He was waiting at the scorer’s table for a dead ball.

“As soon as he checked in the game, I got my first open shot with nobody guarding me,” LaMarcus Aldridge said. “Having him out there, it’s big for us.”

Aldridge finished with 31 points and 11 rebounds, and you probably can guess what McMillan attributed that to.

“He had a calmness about him,” McMillan said of the power forward, who had spent the previous two days being hanged in effigy by the media. “It didn’t rattle him.”

Yes, we can gather that remaining calm is important to McMillan. But there’s another basketball aphorism that applies here, as well. One of John Wooden’s favorite sayings is, “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”

The difference is subtle; the impact profound. And while the Blazers still have not found a way to guard the Suns’ 3-point shooters, and they still have not found a way to free Andre Miller from the defense of Grant Hill, they managed to be calm enough and quick enough Saturday.

All of which means that Portland still is alive in this series, tied 2-2. Sure, the Blazers technically would have been alive despite a loss, but the difference is the quality of life. One is robust and vibrant; the other would have involved life-support.

No longer is Portland the team that coughed and gagged and spit up hairballs in Games 2 and 3. No longer does it have an inexplicable deer-in-headlights look.

Suddenly the Blazers look like a worthy playoff team, one that could cause trouble for any opponent in the postseason.

And after Saturday’s outcome, that’s enough to leave their fans in a state of tranquility.

Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jayne(at)columbian.com. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne