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Victor Oladipo makes long-awaited return after leg injury, leads Pacers past Bulls

After being sidelined for more than a year with a ruptured quad, Victor Oladipo finally returned to the court.

Oladipo made his season debut for the Indiana Pacers in their 115-106 overtime win against the Chicago Bulls at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Wednesday night, and received a massive standing ovation upon entering the game for the first time off the bench. He scored his first points just minutes later, too, expertly drilling a one-handed bucket from just inside the free-throw line.

“It was amazing. Words can’t describe it,” Oladipo said of his return, via Fox Sports Indiana. “It’s been a hard, hard year. A really tough year, but God is good, man. God is good.”

Oladipo fell awkwardly in a matchup against the Toronto Raptors last January, and had to be stretchered off the floor. He underwent surgery on his leg soon after, and missed just more than one full calendar year recovering. The 27-year-old was averaging 18.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game for the Pacers when he went down last season, his fifth in the league.

The recovery wasn’t always fun, either. Oladipo was often stuck doing exercises he never imagined he’d have to do.

“Getting my range of motion back was the most unique thing I've ever had to do in my life, learning how to force yourself to bend your knee,” Oladipo said, via ESPN. “Every morning for a month or month and a half, I was waking up with a rope trying to pull my knee to my butt in excruciating pain. It's like, do you really have to teach your knee how to bend again?”

Oladipo finished the night with nine points and four assists in 20 minutes off the bench, and hit a clutch contested 3-pointer with just seconds left on the clock in regulation to force overtime. The Pacers surged ahead in the extra period, too, kicking it off with an 11-4 run to secure the nine-point win.

Oladipo was extremely emotional in his post-game interview, and dedicated the game-tying shot to Kobe Bryant and the eight others who were killed in a tragic helicopter crash on Sunday morning just outside of Los Angeles.

“I just shot it, man. Mamba Mentality. That’s for Kobe, Gigi, all the people that was on that helicopter,” Oladipo said while fighting back tears, via Fox Sports Indiana. “It’s been a tough year, man, but tough times don’t last. Tough people do. I worked so hard.” 

Indiana coach Nate McMillan said going into the game that Oladipo wasn’t going to play more than 24 minutes, and that he’d be on a minutes restriction at least until after the All-Star break. He knows that it may take some time for both Oladipo and the rest of the team to get adjusted, too.

Yet after Wednesday night, it looks as if the Pacers are off to a great start on that front.

“Whenever you’ve been off for that long, you don’t just come back,” McMillan said before the game, via ESPN. “A year is a long time, and it takes you a while to get your timing and rhythm, your feel and trust. All of that takes some time.”

Indiana Pacers star Victor Oladipo waves to the crowd after entering the game during the first half of their matchup against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday. (AP/Darron Cummings)

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