NEW YORK — For the first time in nearly two years, Brooklyn Nets forward TJ Warren returned to action on an NBA court.
Warren, who had not played since Dec. 29, 2020 as a member of the Indiana Pacers, returned Friday night against the Toronto Raptors after enduring multiple surgeries on his left foot and a grueling rehabilitation program.
“It almost felt like a dream,” Warren said after scoring 10 points in the Nets’ 114-105 win. “As soon as I signed up, I was like, ‘Wow, this is real.’ Once I got up and down it was like, ‘Alright, this is basketball. So it was super fun to be out there and compete with the guys.”
Warren checked in with 4 minutes, 14 seconds remaining in the first quarter, replacing Royce O’Neale. He scored his first points of the season less than a minute later, hitting a 14-footer to give the Nets a 32-10 lead. He was 5 of 11 from the field and grabbed four rebounds in 17 minutes.
Warren impressed his teammates and coaches just by getting back on the court.
“It’s a big hurdle,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said after the game. “And I think if you boil it down to: he hasn’t played in two years. He played four games in two years. And for him to come back here, in a pro game … and look and feel pretty comfortable out there, it doesn’t seem out of place. , I hope that reassures you that you have done all the recovery.
“The 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.”
Vaughn and Warren’s teammates had been waiting for this moment for a while. Vaughn said the group taunted Warren during Friday’s shootaround, given how long he had been out of the game.
Having been through his own serious injuries during his career, Nets star forward Kevin Durant said he knew how important it was for Warren to play at the highest level again.
“He’s a balanced guy,” Durant said. “He showed that he belongs here. It seemed like he didn’t really miss much of a [beat]. Two years that she missed? She didn’t feel that way. But we still have to be patient with him. We still understand that he had tough injuries and spent a lot of time out of the game, but he seemed great to me.”
During his nearly two years out of the game, Warren said he worked on other aspects of the game off the court.
“I’m also working on my mental health,” Warren said before the game. “Just to be away from a game you’ve been making for over 20 years. And to have it taken away from you is definitely an eye opener. It made me look in the mirror and realize that one day the ball may stop bouncing, so It just puts things in perspective that way.”