Victor Oladipo's debut after a year-long absence ended in victory as the Indiana Pacers defeated the visiting Chicago Bulls 115-106 in overtime on Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Oladipo, a two-time NBA All-Star, made his return to the court after sitting out an entire calendar year with a ruptured quad tendon suffered on Jan. 24, 2019 against the Toronto Raptors.
He was the hero Wednesday courtesy of a game-tying three-pointer that knotted the game at 100 with 10.3 seconds left to complete a 7-0 run. A Zach LaVine game-winning shot attempt did not connect, and the two teams went into overtime.
Once there, Malcolm Brogdon took over with five straight points to give the Pacers a 108-102 lead. Chicago never came closer than five points from that moment forward.
T.J. Warren led the Pacers with 25 points. Malcolm Brogdon had a near-triple-double with 15 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. Oladipo finished with nine points.
Chandler Hutchison paced the Bulls offense off the bench with 21 points on 10-of-14 shooting. Zach LaVine added 20.
John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah and Payton Chester, Christina Mauser and Ara Zobayan also died in the crash. The group was en route to the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California.
Oladipo paid tribute by wearing a Bryant Western Conference All-Star Game jersey to the matchup. Chicago also started the game with an eight-second backcourt violation (in honor of Bryant's No. 8 jersey) before Indiana followed with a 24-second shot clock violation (in honor of Bryant's No. 24 jersey).
The shorthanded Bulls, who were without Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter and Wendell Carter Jr. among others due to injury, fell to 19-31. Indiana improved to 31-17.
Bulls SG Zach LaVine: 20 points, 9 assists
Bulls F Chandler Hutchison: 21 points
Bulls PF Thaddeus Young: 16 points
Pacers PG Malcolm Brogdon: 15 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 steals
Pacers F T.J. Warren: 25 points
Pacers F/C Domantas Sabonis: 15 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists
Pacers SG Victor Oladipo: 9 points, 4 assists
Oladipo Saves Best for Last
Oladipo's final stat line isn't exactly eye-opening: nine points on 2-of-8 shooting (1-of-7 from three-point range), four assists, two rebounds and two turnovers in 21 minutes. He naturally looked rusty, as expected after sitting out for an entire year because of serious injury.
But Oladipo reminded fans why he's been named a two-time All-Star and why he was one of the more exciting talents to watch in the game when he drilled a cold-blooded three-pointer from the wing to tie the game at 100.
The former Indiana Hoosier received a pass from beyond the 28-foot line, paused for a few seconds and nailed the long-range three in Chandler Hutchison's face.
Oladipo was 0-of-6 from the three-point line until that point. He had only made one field goal.
And yet there he was with the ball, given the responsibility to prevent a huge upset against a young Bulls team missing numerous players on the road. Moreover, the Pacers have found themselves in a scramble for second in the East, where the second- through sixth-place teams have 31-33 wins. Every game is crucial.
Indiana can count itself among that contending group after Oladipo's shot, but the three has greater significance than just one win in the standings.
The Pacers are going to be a serious problem in the Eastern Conference playoffs if Oladipo can even come close to the form he exhibited prior to last year's injury. The well-rounded and deep Pacers rotation has players who can do a little of everything, but the team needs that alpha who's going to take control of the game at his will.
Oladipo is that player, and he clearly has that mentality after taking the game-tying three despite missing all six of his shots from long distance beforehand.
The fact that Oladipo was even on the court after a long and arduous rehabilitation process that kept him out of competitive NBA action for a full year was impressive enough.
But for one brief moment, he showed everyone why the Pacers could be a force to be reckoned with this spring.
The Pacers will host the New York Knicks on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET. Six of their next seven games will be at home.
The Bulls will play the second matchup of a three-game road swing against the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center on Friday at 7:30 p.m.