For the first time in 2 1/2 years, Orlando Magic big man Jonathan Isaac competed in a basketball game.
Isaac played for the organization’s G League affiliate, the Lakeland Magic, in Wednesday’s 129-117 win over the Westchester Knicks at RP Funding Center in his first game since Aug. 2, 2020 — when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
“It was great,” Isaac said. “I’m grateful to the Magic, to Lakeland and to God for me just being back out here. This is a great milestone for me and I’m just glad I was able to do it.”
He didn’t waste time making his presence felt on the floor in his first game action in 892 days.
On his first possession after checking in with 4:30 remaining in the first quarter, Isaac had a closeout and deflection that forced a shot clock violation.
He went for a dunk and drew a foul on his first shot, making a free throw for his first points.
“I was happy I got to the free throw line early; that’s really what it was,” Isaac said about getting his feel back for the game. “I got that first free throw and I was like ‘OK, I’m good.’ That second half, my legs definitely started to get to me. That’s just a part of this process.”
A couple of possessions later, he ran a pick-and-roll as the ballhandler with R.J. Hampton and assisted to him for a dunk.
Isaac had his first dunk in the first quarter, cutting in from the right corner off a pass from Jemerrio Jones.
Isaac had 15 points (6-of-12 shooting), 5 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block in 14 minutes.
He was on a minutes restriction, with Lakeland’s broadcast saying he was expected to play about 15.
Isaac played 3-4-minute stints off the bench in each quarter.
He looked good with his shotmaking — dunking twice and knocking down a pair of fadeaway jumpers in the first half — along with his pace, getting to his spots and his physicality.
“I’m not going look at it too deep because it was my first game back,” Isaac said. “I’m glad I got a couple of buckets to fall. It was really for my conditioning. I definitely got tired, so that’s something I got to keep working on.”
Fatigue and a dip in energy were factors in the second half but he stayed involved and engaged.
“I definitely can still hoop, but it’s going to take me a little time to get my legs under me,” Isaac said. “Going through those 3-4-minute bouts got me tired. I just want to keep pushing my conditioning and get to the place I feel really comfortable.”
It wasn’t known as of Wednesday whether Isaac would play in any other Lakeland games while the Orlando Magic are on their five-game road trip, which ends Sunday in Denver. The Magic are 2-1 after winning 109-106 on Tuesday in Portland.
There’s a good chance he does if his body responds favorably to Wednesday’s game action. Lakeland hosts the Greensboro Swarm on Friday and Saturday.
“I’m sure if I play again here, it’ll be for more minutes,” he said. “Just continue to kind of push it and see where we go from there.”
Isaac missed the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons and half of this season since tearing the ACL — more than 29 months since his last game action before Wednesday.
When factoring in the time he was sidelined before the ACL injury, Isaac hasn’t consistently played basketball in almost three full years. He had just recovered from a major left knee injury in January 2020 before tearing a ligament during the league’s restart in its Disney World bubble.
Isaac has been training with Orlando and Lakeland for the past month and played 5-on-5 against other basketball players for the first time since the ACL injury on Dec. 6.
“You learn things about yourself when you got to go through something,” Isaac said. “The people I have around me, they encouraged me when times got tough. Waking up every day saying, ‘God, I know you’ve got a purpose for me’ and I know it’s to play basketball. I worked every day to get back to this point and I can’t wait to actually continue to take those steps to get back on the main court.”
When Isaac plays for Orlando again has yet to be determined. But playing for Lakeland is an encouraging sign that he’ll be suiting up for Orlando in the near future.
“I can’t wait,” he said. “Everybody’s thinking about it. I’m thinking about it every second of every day. I’m glad to hit this milestone. I feel great. We may do another one of these. We’ll figure it out, but I feel good.”
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.
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