Magic’s Jonathan Isaac makes long-awaited return vs. Celtics

After more than 2 1/2 years, the wait for Jonathan Isaac’s NBA return to the Orlando Magic is over.

Isaac was available for Monday’s home game vs. the Boston Celtics, allowing him to play in his first NBA game since Aug. 2, 2020 — when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the NBA “bubble” at Disney World.

“We’re all excited for him,” coach Jamahl Mosley said pregame. “You talk about the number of days he’s been out — years. His ability to come back and stay the course the entire process with his faith, work ethic and the support system he has behind him has been tremendous.”

Isaac was upgraded to questionable Sunday before being upgraded to available after the team’s 4 p.m. pregame walkthrough.

He hadn’t played since tearing his ACL, missing the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons and half of this one — making it 904 days between his last NBA game and his return.

Mosley said Isaac was on a playing time restriction of 8-10 minutes.

Magic players and coaches wore Isaac shirts pregame ahead of his return.

“I love it,” Mosley said. “You talk about the nature of who we are, this team and how together we are…no matter what, these guys stay together. That’s what’s so exciting about this group. This is just another step in the process. We talk about being special and building something special, this shows how these guys rally around one another.”

Monday was Isaac’s first game at Amway Center since Dec. 30, 2019, and first outside the league’s “bubble” was on Jan. 1, 2020, in Washington.

“Embrace it,” Mosley said on his message to Isaac. “For what he’s been through, the ups and downs, the ins and outs, his ability to stay resilient, faithful and continue to work, you can only embrace these moments. As he gets acclimated to being back on the court, just play the game he knows how to play. Having fun and enjoying it with his teammates. That’s what it’s all been about.”

Before the injury, Isaac — the No. 6 pick in the 2017 draft — was having a breakout season for the Magic. He averaged 11.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1.6 steals per game in 34 games during the 2019-20 season.

“There [are] no words to describe how great he is defensively,” Mosley said. “He just sees the game differently. His activity, length, knowledge and anticipation of things happening defensively. What I didn’t know walking in was how much work he’s put in offensively to look a different way than the traditional style of basketball — the way he handles the basketball, shooting. He’s done a tremendous job improving all of that.”

Isaac made his return to the floor before Monday.

He played three games with the organization’s G League affiliate, the Lakeland Magic, the previous two weeks, averaging 15.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 assists in 17.7 minutes.

“The great part about being with the G League is that he got to feel the levels of emotions and situations he’s going to be in,” Mosley said. “Coming back with us here, he’s already felt a little bit of that. Now, it’ll probably be at a different level. Just communicating with him, and understanding how to settle himself down. Just embrace all of it. He has to. After being away for this long, you don’t want to shy back from that.”

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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