Each time that LaMarcus Aldridge went to the free-throw line late in the game against the Washington Wizards, the Trail Blazers' forward was showered with a chant of "MVP, MVP," from the hometown fans.
Just two days before, Aldridge had announced he was going to have surgery to repair a ligament in his left thumb and would miss the next six to eight weeks.
But in a dramatic turn, he announced Saturday that he'd play through the pain. And hours later, he had 26 points and nine rebounds in the Blazers' 103-96 victory over the Wizards.
Even the public address announcer at the Moda Center beckoned the crowd to cheer him for a curtain call as he finally left the court.
"I'm not into the rah-rah story," Aldridge said. "I just wanted to come back and play. I wanted to test it out at home, and versus these guys because I felt they were a physical team, and if I could play against these guys then that would be good. And I was OK."
Damian Lillard added 20 points and seven assists as the Blazers snapped two-game losing streak.
Tied at 79 midway through the fourth quarter, Wesley Matthews made two 3-pointers that gave Portland an 87-85 with 3:28 left. Lillard's 3 extended the lead 92-85.
Nene's layup closed the Wizards to 94-91 but he missed a free throw then fouled Meyers Leonard on a 3-point attempt on the other end. Leonard made all three free throws to put Portland up 97-91 with 1:07 left and Washington couldn't catch up.
John Wall, this week was named an Eastern Conference starter for the All-Star game, led the Wizards with 25 points and nine assists.
The Wizards, coming off a 105-103 overtime loss to Oklahoma City on Wednesday, led by as many as 14 points in the first half.
"In the third quarter they really started to make their shots and we didn't. It started to look a lot like the OKC game," Wall said. "We gave ourselves opportunities, we just didn't close out possessions."
The Blazers had lost five of their last six, including Thursday night's last-second 90-89 loss to the Boston Celtics.
It was Aldridge's night after he surprised many by deciding to play despite his proclamation 48 hours earlier that he was planning to undergo surgery. He hurt his thumb on Monday against the Sacramento Kings and missed two games, both Portland losses.
Now, he'll take it a game at a time, he said.
"My idea now is to play the rest of the season," he said. "But if it gets too much where I can't handle it or I'm not playing at a very good level then I'll stop. But hopefully it goes well for us."
Despite the emotional boost from his return, the Blazers didn't hit a shot from the floor in the first 4 minutes of the game. Then Aldridge made his first two jumpers.
The Wizards took advantage of the slow start and led 32-20 after the first quarter. Nene paced Washington with 11 points.
CJ McCollum hit a 3-pointer that pulled the Blazers to 43-39 but Wall answered with a jumper and the Wizards led 55-45 at the break.
Wesley Matthews answered with a 3 for the Blazers to narrow the gap to 66-61. Dorrell Wright got Portland closer with a falling-down 3 and a free throw that made it 68-67.
Aldridge hit a 20-foot-jumper to finally pull the Blazers in front, capping their 16-5 run.