Besides Seth Curry, big man Enes Kanter is the only recent former Trail Blazer who has returned to Portland healthy enough to play this season.
That night came Tuesday at Moda Center, where Kanter came off the bench for the Boston Celtics. This season, the former Blazers big man is averaging 8.8 points and 8.0 rebounds in 18.1 minutes of action.
Kanter got a well received ovation in his return at the 5:01 mark of the first quarter. Blazers fans greeted him with loud cheers.
As Rip City often does, both fans in Moda Center and on social media welcomed Kanter back with open arms, even though he played in just 39 total games for Portland.
There are a lot of reasons why it may seem like Kanter was a Trail Blazer for longer than he actually was last season. Maybe it was witnessing him step up late in the year, particular in the postseason after Jusuf Nurkic went down, or watching him play through shoulder pain in the playoffs, or the fact that he really seemed to embrace Portland.
Kanter had a big smile on his face thinking about how the Rip City faithful showered him with love as if he had been a longtime Blazer.
“I was only here for like maybe a half year, right? But, I feel like I’d been here for like whatever years… I give credit to the fans because the fans just always been amazing, cheering for me, supporting me,” Kanter said.
The Trail Blazers signed Kanter as a free agent in mid-February last season, but for Kanter, it doesn’t matter how much time he spent with the Blazers, he will always hold Portland in high regards.
“It was just good to be back,” Kanter said postgame. “Just seeing all this crowd, because this is the craziest crowd in the NBA, one of the craziest crowds. It was just fun to come back and see this atmosphere and to see my old teammates.”
Following the Celtics win, Kanter headed over towards the Blazers bench to talk with his former teammates and former coaching staff. Zach Collins was one of the first to embrace Kanter after Tuesday’s game.
As for catching up with his former teammates and coaches, Kanter said, “it was amazing.”
The 9-year vet feels like he really went to battle with his Blazer teammates last season before falling to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.
“Obviously, I went to the playoffs last year with them and it was like a war, and you never forget your friends when you’re in the war with them. It was nice to see them,” Kanter said.
But, it was Portland’s first round match-up against the Oklahoma City Thunder that Kanter will truly never forget.
In fact, it was the first memory that popped into his head when he walked into the quiet, still Moda Center.
Yep, that Damian Lillard game-winning shot over Paul George.
That unforgettable shot is something Kanter was extremely happy to be a part of.
This morning, the first time I came to [Moda Center] for practice, I [thought about] the Dame shot against OKC. I was like, ‘man, I was here for that shot. So, for me, it was just amazing to just be in that moment with those guys, that’s the first thing I remembered. -- Celtics center Enes Kanter reminiscing about his time in Portland
That Game Five was even more memorable for Kanter, because well before Lillard swished the 37-foot game winner to give the Blazers a 118-115 victory and end the series, Kanter separated his left shoulder during a collision with Steven Adams.
Still to this day, Kanter has shoulder pain, but he wouldn’t change a thing about playing through the pain in the Blazers-Nuggets and Blazers-Warriors series.
“I was at the hotel today and thinking about my shoulder and it’s been almost one year, I still feel it a little bit. But, you know what -- it was just, I don’t regret it. It was just -- we’re deep into the playoffs and, for me; it was just go out there and fight for my teammates.”
As Portland continues to play through so many injuries this season, Kanter has been encouraged by what the Blazers have been able to accomplish.
“It’s always tough, man, because I feel like the most important thing for a team is staying healthy, but now, they’ve got so many people hurt, but I think, you know, they’ve been still doing an amazing job, giving a fight out there.”