ORLANDO, Fla. — Magic forward Jonathan Isaac stood at the scorer’s table, had a quick chat with coach Jamahl Mosley, and calmly removed his shooting jersey. He turned to the court, stuck his mouthpiece in and stepped onto NBA soil to play his first game in over 900 days.
The long wait was over. As he checked in on the game between a pair of Jayson Tatum free throws, the sold-out crowd of 19,196 inside the Amway Center showed their appreciation with a rousing ovation.
Isaac, 25, hadn’t played in an official NBA game since Aug. 2, 2020, when he tore his ACL in his left knee during a game in the Orlando bubble. He missed all of the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons and half of the 2022-23 campaign before returning Monday night against the Boston Celtics.
On a tight minute restriction, Isaac finished with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting in just under 10 minutes of action as the Magic beat the Celtics 113-98.
Isaac said a lot of things went through his mind when he was recording. He also admitted that there were times when he was unsure if that day would ever come, but leaned on his faith in times of doubt.
“There were days when I was like I didn’t know if I wanted to continue,” he said. “But again, I have to thank Christ. To be able to come back to my faith and say that God made me go on this journey for a purpose. I know I was created to play basketball. I was created to give glory to God on this step.”
Isaac was the first substitute of the night for Orlando, and he checked in alone – something that was done intentionally by Mosley so the crowd could recognize the moment.
Isaac’s first touch of the evening didn’t come too long after he arrived. As Orlando descended onto the field for the first time, Isaac found himself with the ball in his hands.
He caught it along the baseline and tried to roll over Boston’s Jaylen Brown. Isaac said he thought Brown was going to take a charge, but when he didn’t, Isaac misstepped as he tried to get an unsuccessful layup.
On the ensuing offensive possession for the Magic, Isaac was able to knock the shot down – a 13-foot right over Brown.
“Thanks to Coach Mose for drawing one for me,” Isaac said. “It was supposed to be really a hook and a jumper, but they played it well and it was just me and Jaylen. So I just said get something and I was able to come to my turnaround. I really like that shot. When it fell I was just like, ‘Thank you.’ Just get rid of it.”
Isaac’s first stint lasted just under 4½ minutes. Aside from the jumper on Brown, he added a layup, but was only 2 of 5 off the floor.
He admitted that fatigue was a problem at first.
“That kind of first breath hit me. That last minute I could barely speak, I was breathing so hard,” Isaac said. “But the second rotation of the second half, those four minutes, I started to relax and feel good.”
There was a noticeable difference in the second half when Isaac came back. He made a pair of 3-pointers and caught two steals, one of which he handed it to Paolo Banchero for a slam on his last play of the night. He checked for good with 2:08 remaining in the third quarter.
“I thought he was awesome,” Mosley said. “I think he did a great job playing with a level of balance. I think that was the importance for him to get G League time. Obviously there was a ton of emotions and rightly so. I thought it was great the way he handled himself.”
Mosley and Isaac shared a moment before the game. Mosley took a seat at the end of the Magic bench and called Isaac as he left the field. The two had a quick chat, during which Mosley expressed how happy he was to see Isaac again.
Before playing two games in the Orlando bubble, Isaac hadn’t played since Jan. 1, 2020, when he sprained the same left knee. His last game at the Amway Center was on December 30, 2019, when he contributed 13 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks in a loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
The only Magic teammates still on the team who played in this game were Markelle Fultz, Terrence Ross and Mo Bamba. Neither Ross nor Bamba saw any minutes Monday against Boston.
“Tonight could have gone so many ways and for it to go the way it did, I appreciate it for that. So there’s a peace, a relief, so let’s move on.”
Cole Anthony, who spent time on the pitch with Isaac on Monday, said he was extremely happy to see Isaac back on the pitch after seeing him having to observe from the sidelines during his first 2½ seasons with the team. .
“Being out for that long can certainly be frustrating, and I know he probably felt like he could have come back sooner,” Anthony said. “But he’s been very supportive of the team as a whole. He watches all of our games, just hits us when we’re playing well. He hit me when I played badly trying to cheer me up. Just a great locker overall room guy and a pleasure to have as a teammate.”
Anthony said he had played with Isaac before, so it was good to share an NBA court with him.
Magic sophomore forward Franz Wagner has his locker next to Isaac’s and knows how much Monday night meant to his teammate. He was also excited about what a healthy Isaac could do for Magic’s young team.
“I think even without some of the guys, I think we’ve found part of our identity,” Wagner told ESPN. “I think our goal for the season should be to keep working on that. We have new rotations, we have to figure it all out. But we have so much talent and so much size in every position.
“But the most important thing is that we have great guys. Everyone cares about the good things. You saw it today when [Isaac] replaced. We all want to see the next one succeed.
When Isaac left the game for good in the third quarter, he briefly disappeared from the bench. Upon his return, he took a seat on the bench and continued to cheer on his teammates.
At the end of the night, his teammates doused him with water.
“Relief and peace,” Isaac said when asked how he felt after his time on the pitch. “Peace like, ‘God, you got me.’ I appreciate him. He’s really faithful. I just want to thank him. Because tonight could have gone so many ways and for it to go like this, I appreciate him for that. So there’s a peace, a relief. , so let’s continue.”