ORLANDO, Fla. – Magic striker Jonathan Isaac stood at the scorer’s table, had a short talk with coach Jamahl Mosley and calmly took off his shooting shirt. He turned to the field, put in his mouthpiece and walked onto an NBA floor to play his first game in over 900 days.
The long wait was over. As he checked into the game between a pair of Jayson Tatum free throws, the sold-out crowd of 19,196 at the Amway Center showed his appreciation with a rousing ovation.
Isaac, 25, had not played an official NBA game since August 2, 2020, when he tore the 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 season before returning against the Boston Celtics on Monday night.
With a tight minute limit, 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 was going through his mind when he checked in. He also admitted that there were times when he didn’t know if this day would ever come, but leaned on his faith during times of doubt.
“There were days when I thought I don’t know if I want to continue,” he said. “But again, I have to thank Christ. To be able to go back to my faith and say that God has me on this journey for a purpose. I know I was made to play basketball. I was made to honor God to give at this stage.”
Isaac was the first sub of the night for Orlando, and he checked in alone — something Mosley did on purpose so the audience could acknowledge the moment.
Isaac’s first touch of the evening came not long after he checked in. When Orlando first came onto the field, Isaac found himself holding the ball.
He caught it down the baseline and tried to ride Boston’s Jaylen Brown. Isaac said he thought Brown was going to make a charge, but since he didn’t, it caused Isaac to misstep when he tried to get a layup that didn’t go in.
On the ensuing offensive possession for the Magic, Isaac was able to get the shot down – a 13-footer right over Brown.
“Shout out to Coach Mose for drawing one up for me,” Isaac said. “It really should have been a catch 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 do my turnaround. I really like that shot. When it fell I had like, ‘Thank you.’ Get that out.”
Isaac’s first stint lasted just under 4½ minutes. Aside from the jumper over Brown, he added a layup but was only 2-of-5 off the floor.
He admitted fatigue was a problem early on.
“That kind of first wind got me. That last moment I could barely speak, I was breathing so hard,” said Isaac. “But the second rotation in the second half, those four minutes, I just started to relax and just feel good.”
There was a notable difference in the second half when Isaac returned. He made a pair of 3-pointers and grabbed two steals, including one that gave Paolo Banchero a slam on his final play of the night. He checked out for good with 2:08 left in the third quarter.
“I thought he was great,” Mosley said. “I thought he did a great job playing with a level of poise. I think that was the importance of getting the G League time. Obviously there was a lot of emotion and rightly so. I loved the way he handled herself.”
Mosley and Isaac shared a pre-game moment. Mosley sat down at the end of the Magic’s bench and called Isaac as he walked off the field. The two had a quick conversation, during which Mosley expressed how happy he was to see Isaac again.
Prior to playing two games in the Orlando bubble, Isaac had not played since January 1, 2020, when he sprained the same left knee. His last game at the Amway Center was 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 that game were Markelle Fultz, Terrence Ross and Mo Bamba. Neither Ross nor Bamba saw minutes against Boston on Monday.
“This night could have gone so many ways and for letting it go the way it did, I credit Him for it. So there’s a peace, a relief, so let’s keep going.”
Cole Anthony, who spent some time with Isaac on the floor on Monday, said he was extremely happy to see Isaac back on the floor after watching him from the sidelines during his first 2½ seasons with the team.
“It can certainly be frustrating to be out for so long, and I know he probably felt like he could have come back sooner,” said Anthony. “But he only supports the team as a whole. He watches all our games, just hits us when we play well. He hits me when I played badly and tries to cheer me up. Just a great locker.” room guy and a pleasure to have as a teammate.”
Anthony said he’d played some pick-up with Isaac before, so it was nice to actually share an NBA court with him.
Magical 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 the young Magic team in the future.
“I think even without some of the guys, we 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 need to figure out all those things. But we have so much talent and so much size in every position.
“But the most important thing is that we just have great guys. Everyone cares about the right things. You saw that today [Isaac] fell into. We all want the next man to succeed.’
When Isaac checked out of 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.
When the night was over, his teammates doused him with water.
“Relief and peace,” said Isaac when asked how he felt after his time on the track was over. “Peace like, ‘God, you got me.’ I appreciate it He’s really faithful I just want to thank Him Because this night could have gone so many ways and because it went the way it did I appreciate Him for it So there’s a peace a relief , so let’s Get on.”