MILWAUKEE -- For the first time in almost a year, Bucks forward Jabari Parker was back playing in an NBA game and enjoying all the love showered upon him after he dealt with the second serious knee injury of his career.
Parker, who tore his left ACL for the second time on Feb. 8, 2017, scored 12 points in 15 minutes as Milwaukee squeaked out a 92-90 win over the New York Knicks on Friday night. After it was over, the softspoken 22-year-old took his latest return in stride.
"It felt great," Parker said. "But honestly, training myself to think about it as just getting better. It's not going to take just one game, a few games, just the whole process. That game didn't really stick out as much as people perceive it to be."
It did to the teammates, coaches and fans who watched Parker go through a grueling rehab process to get back on the floor. When Parker checked into the game for Giannis Antetokounmpo with 5:25 left in the first quarter, the crowd at the BMO Harris Bradley Center gave the Chicago native a standing ovation.
"I'm proud of him," Bucks teammate Khris Middleton said. "It's tough to go through what he went through twice, then come back and play like nothing's ever happened. It's great. I know there was a lot going through his mind, but he did a great job of just going out there and playing basketball."
The Bucks are optimistic that Parker can pair up with Antetokounmpo down the stretch of the season and provide the consistent offensive option the team has been searching for all season.
"It was a great feeling," Antetokounmpo said of seeing Parker on the floor. "Everybody was really excited about JP coming back tonight. Most importantly, he was just playing, having fun. It's just great to see him out there competing with us again."
As usual, it was Antetokounmpo who led the way for the Bucks, scoring 29 points, including the game-winner in the lane with 1.9 seconds left, but it was Parker who had the spotlight on this night.
"It's good to see one of your brothers go through what he went through and then get the standing ovation that he got," Middleton said. "He loves this city, so it's only right that this city loves him back."
Bucks interim coach Joe Prunty did not reveal when Parker's restriction of around 15 minutes per game would be extended, but he noted there is a plan for progression in place.
"I thought he had a very good debut," Prunty said. "I thought there were a lot of positive things that he did out on the floor. One of the things we talked about a lot, there are certain things he does naturally. He can score the ball, he can make plays for himself and other people. But I thought defensively he was solid, was in the right spots. Again, there's a rhythm and timing to the game every time you step out there, and it's difficult when you've been off for a while, and I thought he did a really nice job of fitting in and helping the team win the game."
Parker's next test comes Sunday in a matinee against the Brooklyn Nets.
"[The] only way to go here is going up," Parker said. "You can't beat the low of any point that I've been at any stage of these few months. Anything that I do from this point on is just to go up, and that's a blessing."