The Memphis Grizzlies blew an 18-point lead and lost to a starless LA Clippers squad, but a big part of Jaren Jackson Jr. felt victorious.
After missing the first 56 games of the season, Jackson finally made his 2020-21 season debut after undergoing meniscus surgery in August. The third-year forward finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and four blocks in 18 minutes during a 117-105 loss to the Clippers at Staples Center.
Jackson said he had "mixed emotions" after losing to a Clippers team that was without six rotation players due to rest or injury, but said of finally returning to the court, "This is a big win. It's been a long stretch for me."
The Grizzlies took their time bringing Jackson back. The 6-foot-11 big man entered the game with 7:01 remaining in the first quarter and needed just over 30 seconds to hit his first basket of the season. He launched a 3 that bounced high off the rim, touching the top of the backboard before falling in. He also had a big driving dunk.
Jackson, who averaged 17.4 points last season, said as soon as he checked into the game, things felt like they were back to normal.
"As soon as I checked into the game, I couldn't help but laugh a little bit," Jackson said. "Just being out there in general was a win for me. Thank God that joint [the first shot] rolled in."
Grizzlies guard Ja Morant said he was thrilled to have the franchise's other young promising star alongside him again. He told Jackson to just go out and play his game and not try to force anything.
"It's a good sign," Morant said of Jackson's return. "We are all happy for him. We know how hard he has been working to get back. I know he was very excited. Everybody can see I was excited as well."
Even though the Grizzlies blew an early 38-20 lead to a Clippers team playing without Kawhi Leonard (foot) and Paul George (rest), Memphis (29-28) was excited to see Jackson back for the stretch run for a postseason berth. The Grizzlies currently are in the eighth spot in the Western Conference.
Memphis coach Taylor Jackson had high praise for Jackson's performance.
"Defensively, blocking shots, going for rebounds, communicating out there, being part of his growth there on the defensive end. Being an anchor for us. And offensively, just making the simple play but doing it with aggressiveness and force, and I really loved what he did," Taylor Jackson said. "He attacked the game. He's put in a lot of work, and the biggest thing was, he was out there having fun, and I know he is going to continue to build on this one moving forward."