It almost felt like a dream as TJ Warren described his return from nearly two years of absence.
But it was everything he imagined as he helped the Brooklyn Nets book their fourth straight win with 10 points in 17 minutes off the bench.
“I loved his minutes. He has a knack for finding the basketball and cutting to the rim well. He had offensive rebounds a couple of times, running the floor. So it’s only gonna get better for him as he gets more reps. I look forward to him playing out there with us. Really, really solid defensively. So he just gives another big body, and [I’m] just happy he’s playing again. Oh, he loves the game.”Kevin Durant postgame via NBA.com
Warren completed his scintillating return with four rebounds, three from the offensive glass, and added one steal. More importantly, the Nets outscored the Raptors by eight in those 17 minutes.
Nets coach Jacque Vaughn revealed they had “a short shootaround for Warren just to get him acclimated a little bit.” And by design, Vaughn eased Warren into his Nets debut with Durant before leaving him alone with the second group and familiar faces in Edmond Sumner, Warren’s teammate in Indiana, and Markieff Morris, his teammate in Phoenix.
“It almost felt like a dream. As soon as I checked in, it kind of hit me like, ‘Wow, this is real.’ Once I got up and down it was just like, ‘All right, this is basketball.’ So it was just super fun to be out there and compete with the guys.”TJ Warren via ESPN
Vaughn was anxious to see Warren’s first shot since Dec. 29, 2020.
“I was interested in that first shot. What was it going to look like? How long how short it was gonna be? Was he gonna hit the rim?”Jacque Vaughn postgame via NBA.com
It was not long before Warren found the bottom of the net after checking in with Morris at the 4:40 mark of the first quarter.
The play started with Sumner zipping a pass to Morris in the left while Warren darted to the right corner. Then Morris made a crosscourt pass to Seth Curry, who quickly gave it to Warren. With Raptors center Chris Boucher closing out, Warren faked him with a hesitation drive before pulling up for a 15-foot jumper with Durant watching the play unfold above the three-point line.
“That thing was beautiful to watch. So I think he enjoyed being out there.”Jacque Vaughn postgame via NBA.com
Warren’s long-term role for the Nets is to be the second unit’s go-to scorer while Durant is on the bench. But Vaughn let them play off each other in this game to help Warren get his feet wet.
“It was planned for [Warren] to have that first step with Kevin. Just so Kevin can kind of carry that group so he could finish and then for him to be out there also without Kevin and see what that group looked like, which was pretty good. But the thought was let’s get him in with Kevin. Maybe Kevin can attract a double team and he can get an open look.”Jacque Vaughn postgame via NBA.com
Vaughn was happy to see Warren comfortable on the court and not looking out of place. Finally, Warren has cleared the huge hurdle. It could only get better from here.
“I hope that reassures [Warren] that he’s done all the recovery, that people who have helped him get back to this position in his life deserve a lot of credit, and he deserves a lot of credit for sticking with it.”Jacque Vaughn postgame via NBA.com
Kyrie Irving, who had his shares of long absences both from injuries and personal reasons, was happy to see Warren return.
“I was really excited for him. Like I said the other night, just him doing all of those things, getting back after those two years, I’m just really happy for him and proud of him. You can’t take it for granted when you take two years to come back to the game that you love.”Kyrie Irving postgame via NBA.com
On top of reconditioning his body, Warren also focused on his mental health during his time away from the game. It was an eye-opening experience and helped him grow with a different perspective.
“He’s a poised guy. He showed that he belongs out here. It felt like he didn’t really miss too much of a [beat]. Two years he missed? It didn’t feel like that. But we still got to be patient with him. We still understand that he had tough injuries and he spent a lot of time away from the game, but he looked great to me.”Kevin Durant postgame via NBA.com
Durant can relate as he came back with a different perspective after an Achilles injury kept him out for the entire first season of his Brooklyn stop. But the serious injury also did not stop him from getting back to his old form.
Durant and the Nets hope Warren can do the same to boost their title chances this season.
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