With the season winding down and his team's playoff hopes dimming with every loss, Portland coach Nate McMillan was looking for a leader.
Brandon Roy may only be a 23-year-old second-year pro, but that didn't stop McMillan from challenging last season's rookie of the year to be that guy.
Roy had 27 points and nine assists, playing biggest during a game-deciding 12-2 run in the fourth quarter to lift the Trail Blazers to a 103-96 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night.
"He and I talked a little bit today and just talked about where we are and what he needs to do," McMillan said. "I thought he really came out tonight with that attitude that we can't lose this. He kind of willed this game and made plays down the stretch."
Minnesota coach Randy Wittman could have used a player like him down the stretch Tuesday night, someone who could get to the basket for easy buckets or free throws and create open perimeter shots for his teammates.
The thing is, the Timberwolves had him.
Minnesota drafted Roy in the first round two years ago, but traded him to the Blazers for Randy Foye and cash in a three-way deal with Boston on draft night. Foye missed the first half of this season with a knee injury and is still getting settled in the league while Roy has emerged as a star-in-the-making and McMillan's floor general.
"He just told me with what I've done my rookie season and so far this season, that this teams needs a leader to start to emerge," Roy said of his talk with his coach. "He said, 'The guys are going to follow you and if you come to the game ready to play, they'll be ready to play. I know it's tough in your second year, but you've got to start preparing now.'"
Al Jefferson scored 12 of his 20 points in the fourth and Rashad McCants had 18 off the bench for the Timberwolves, who hovered around 55 percent shooting for most of the game but couldn't come up with the big shot down the stretch.
Roy struggled with his shot for the first three quarters, but got to the basket at will in the fourth to rally the Blazers. LaMarcus Aldridge added 20 points and James Jones had 13 off the bench.
Jefferson had a tough time with Portland's attacking double-team, but he scored six points during an 8-2 spurt midway through the fourth quarter to give Minnesota a 90-85 lead.
"It was the quickest I have seen in a long time," Jefferson said of the double teams. "Man, it was crazy."
The Blazers came right back with that 12-2 run, with Roy scoring on a pretty drive and then delivering a pinpoint pass to Joel Przybilla for a layup.
After Jefferson cut the lead to 97-94 with just over — minute to go, Roy scored on another drive and added a couple of free throws to ice the game.
Portland improved to 3-1 on their five-game road trip, which wraps up Thursday at Sacramento.
The Blazers started the night in 10th place in the Western Conference, two spots out of the playoffs and six games behind the eighth-place Golden State Warriors. They let one slip away in a loss to Cleveland on Monday night, squandering a 13-point lead to LeBron James, but rebounded with a spirited second-half effort after allowing the Wolves to shoot 59 percent in the first half.
"We're not out of it, so we're not giving in to the schedule and the big climb we have ahead of us," McMillan said. "We're really focusing on the next game, trying to win it, and wherever that leads us, we'll deal with it at the end."
Thoughts of the postseason in Minnesota went bye-bye a long time ago, perhaps as early as July when they traded Kevin Garnett to Boston.
They have started a slogan of "Let's Build It" and hope to use the final 20 games of the season to gain some momentum heading into Year 2 of the rebuilding plan.
It started with two straight road wins on their most recent West Coast trip, over Sacramento and the Clippers. That's a first, but they weren't able to build on it to get their first three-game winning streak of the season.
"We're just trying to build," Smith said. "Before the season ends, hopefully we can get it."
Wolves coach Randy Wittman said MRI results on PG Sebastian Telfair's left ankle showed only a sprain. A timetable for his return is still uncertain, though Wittman said at least seven to 10 days Monday. "It's going to be a little while," Wittman said. ... Former Vikings "Purple People Eater" Carl Eller attended the game.
Roy rallies Blazers late to comeback win over Timberwolves