After missing nearly a full year of play, Victor Oladipo returned to the Indiana Pacers lineup to help beat the Chicago Bulls 115-106.
Last January, Oladipo was taken off the court by a stretcher with a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee. Oladipo explained his pain was excruciating, as he fought for a full year to make his return on the court.
Oladipo entered the arena wearing a Kobe Bryant All-Star Game jersey from 2003, honoring the Black Mamba after his sudden death on Sunday. After the win, Oladipo had cracking in his voice, saying the game was for Bryant and everyone else involved in the helicopter crash.
He played 21 minutes, scoring nine points on 2-of-8 shooting, with two rebounds and four assists. But when the Pacers needed him the most, he delivered. Down three points with 10 seconds left, Oladipo made his only three of the night to force overtime, where the Pacers would prevail.
Oladipo has been an All-Star the past two seasons in the Eastern Conference. With him in the lineup, the Pacers are a legitimate threat to make some noise in the East. At 31-17 and in the fifth seed, the team has all the tools to compete. Even though their big men are undersized, they grab rebounds and play above average defense.
The only problem with the Eastern Conference, is that the Milwaukee Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Philadelphia 76ers with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid exist. It’s hard to fathom any other team in that conference beating either of those juggernauts. Although the Sixers have underperformed this season, beating them four times in a seven-game series is a tall task, especially given the star-power and length on the roster.
The already surprising Pacers have one of the best guards in the conference, Malcom Brogdon, and one of the best forwards as well, Domantas Sabonis. With Oladipo returning, watch out.