Finally back on the court, Jusuf Nurkic made the most of his first 20 minutes of action Thursday in Orlando.
The Trail Blazers dropped a 91-88 scrimmage against the Indiana Pacers Thursday, but the story of the day was Nurkic’s return to action for the first time since March 25, 2019.
“It was a long road back for Nurk,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said. “But there’s no question that having him back makes us a better team.”
Nurkic, who had 14 points and eight rebounds, looked comfortable, relaxed and confident in his starting role. He was productive, active and showed no signs of the broken leg that kept him out of action. He scored his team’s first basket of the game on a jump hook, but that wasn’t the pinnacle of the day’s excitement for him.
“The tip-off,” he said. “That probably had more affect on me. After tip-off, the flow of the game was just the same for me from before I left. I’m in great shape, but the excitement of the game got me tired.
"It's been really a journey. It's great to be back."
It was a big moment for Nurkic and his teammates, just to see him back, but a special thrill for Mario Hezonja, who has been friends with the Portland center since childhood.
“I loved it,” said Hezonja, who came off the bench to lead Portland scorers with 15 points.”He’s a monster out there. I don’t even want to talk about the actual game. Just being personally very close to him, knowing him since 14 or 15, to see what he’s been through. To see how excited he was. Zach (Collins), too. To see them out there… it was amazing.”
The Blazers were very good in the first quarter, but flattened out after that. The bench, playing without Hassan Whiteside (left Achilles and lower leg soreness) and Nassir Little (concussion protocol), struggled until late in the fourth quarter.
“In general,” Stotts said, “it was kind of what we expected. Defense was pretty solid for most of the game, Obviously we didn’t shoot the ball very well, which I’m not too concerned about.
“I thought the starters in the first half really showed what they are capable of doing, I thought everybody who was anxious to see Zach and Nurk were probably pleased to see how they played. For the first game, not a bad effort. I thought we could have played better, obviously, but kind of what we expected.”