The day after his return, Portland Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy looked as smooth as ever.
He drilled mid-range jump shots and sank long 3-pointers with a flip of his wrist.
He executed his trademark crossover, backstep, pull-up move with sharp precision.
And while answering a series of questions about his unexpected, thrilling comeback during Portland’s Game 4 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday at the Rose Garden, Roy was his natural, easygoing self.
But there was also a new aspect to Roy’s playoff resurrection. While Saturday was characterized by overwhelming joy and the momentary suspension of belief, Sunday was about returning to reality.
The Blazers are locked into a 2-2 tie with the Suns in a Western Conference first-round playoff series.
Game 5 is tonight at the US Airways Center in Phoenix.
And while the Blazers have Roy and are riding a new wave supported by strength and confidence, the Suns still have home-court advantage.
Portland’s remaining road to upset Phoenix and reach the second round for the first time since 2000 is not an easy one, Roy said. And the Blazers cannot afford to let the postglow celebration following their Game 4 victory and Roy’s sudden return cloud their path.
“I think guys are a little looser. But it’s important that we come out to play,” said Roy, following a Sunday morning practice at the team’s workout facility. “I didn’t come back to have one good game. I came back to try to help this team win this series. And it’s important that we get over the whole emotional high of last game and get ready to play a tough basketball game at Phoenix. They’re still a really good team.”
Roy acknowledged that his conditioning is still a work in progress, as is his shot. As a result, guard Jerryd Bayless was declared the likely starter for Game 5.
But Roy and Blazers coach Nate McMillan said a final decision had not been made. Moreover, Roy joked that he could easily see himself trading phone calls and text messages with McMillan as Game 5 approached, lobbying for the right to take the court first.
Roy employed that same tactic with McMillan and found success before Game 4, eventually being allowed to suit up and make his 2009-10 playoff debut.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m starting (tonight),” said Roy, who scored 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting during Game 4. “But right now, no, I’m not starting.”
Bayless said he had no preference if he starts or comes off the bench versus the Suns, adding that he did not know until just before tipoff for Game 4 that he would replace Rudy Fernandez in the rotation.
“Winning solves everything. It’s always like that with every organization. It’s not just here,” Bayless said. “We’ve just got to continue to win, and that good feeling will keep on coming.”
Meanwhile, the feel-good decision to give Roy the greenlight for Game 4 still made waves Sunday.
Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard was heavily involved in the behind-the-scenes process Friday night and Saturday morning that resulted in a last-minute go-ahead for Roy to take the court.
Roy missed the first three games of the series while recovering from right knee surgery April 16 to repair a torn meniscus. He was originally ruled out for the series, then his timeline to return was slimmed down to 1-2 weeks.
Roy’s possible comeback was next moved up to Game 6. Then Game 5. About 30 minutes before tipoff for Game 4, McMillan received a message from Pritchard that Roy was good to go.
Pritchard said a mutual agreement among himself, Roy, McMillan and owner Paul Allen came down to one word: trust.
“This team has been resilient all season long. Faced adversity left and right, and it’s overcome it,” Pritchard said. “And I’m not saying we’re going to win the series. But what I’m saying is, this team has a toughness that I’m not sure we fully understand.”
• McMillan said forward Nicolas Batum’s strained right shoulder is holding up well. Batum practiced Sunday, and is expected to start tonight.
• McMillan said the Blazers have taken issue with two hard, high elbows thrown by Phoenix forward Amare Stoudemire at Batum during the series. Portland has brought the issue up with the league office.
• Blazers center Marcus Camby did not practice Sunday. However, Camby is expected to start tonight.
• Pritchard received a vote for NBA executive of the year. Milwaukee GM John Hammond won the award.
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