Only part of the story: Victor Oladipo’s return more than a numbers game
ORLANDO, Fla. — The numbers Friday night showed that Victor Oladipo made three of his 10 field goals and six of his eight free throws while grabbing three rebounds and handing out two assists in the Orlando Magic’s 101-85 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Those numbers don’t begin to tell the story of what the return of the second-year guard meant.
To hear Oladipo describe, they really didn’t tell a thing.
"I’m just glad to be out there," he said, grinning from ear to ear while shivering as he soaked his feet in a bucket of ice water in the Magic locker room. "I could care less if I came out today and I shot zero for 20. I don’t care. I’m just glad to be out there."
And his teammates were just as glad to see him in a uniform instead of a suit, fluorescent purple or otherwise.
"Having Vic back is great," center Nikola Vucevic said. "He’s a huge part of this team. He helps us a lot. He brings so much for us on the court, especially energy-wise. Everyone was playing hard, flying around."
Oladipo had missed the Magic’s first nine games because of a fractured bone in his face. That injury came in a practice during the final week of the preseason after Oladipo had just recovered from a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
He still must play with a brace on his knee and a hard plastic mask on his face. But if he was in any sort of pain, that was the furthest thing from his mind when entered the game to an ovation with 3:45 to go in the first quarter and the Magic trailing 21-12.
"Words can’t describe how I was feeling checking into the ballgame," Oladipo said.
"He’s one of the heartbeats of this team," said veteran guard Willie Green, who had never played with Oladipo in a game situation before but spent most of the fourth quarter on the floor with him. "We welcomed him back and needed him back."
There were signs of rust from his inactivity, particularly when Brandon Knight blew past Oladipo for a layup. But he also knocked down a 3-point shot and also assisted on a 3-pointer by Channing Frye, who had missed the entire preseason as well.
Oladipo’s most impressive shot might have been one which never counted. He answered Knight’s basket with a length-of–the court drive of his own, but the ball didn’t leave his hands until after the horn to end the quarter had sounded.
The Bucks scored 30 points in the first quarter. They had 36 for the entire second half. And in a game where rookie Elfrid Payton appeared overmatched against Knight, coach Jacque Vaughn wasted little time early in the third quarter bringing the Magic’s leader in steals last season back into the thick of things.
"It’s what I do, just play defense," Oladipo said. "That’s what I’m good at. That’s the reason why I’m here. When people are on a roll like that, they expect me to go in there and stop them or slow them down at least. I think I did a good job of sliding my feet and playing with confidence."
Oladipo and rookie Aaron Gordon helped the Magic turn things around after a sloppy start which included six turnovers in the first eight minutes.
"We had a little bit of a malaise coming off the road," Vaughn said. "We didn’t start off as fast or as solid as we needed to. But to have the ability to put two energetic guys in the game gave us a lift."
"The young fella plays hard," Oladipo said of Gordon. "It’s kind of contagious when both of us are out there playing hard."
Despite their rough beginning, the Magic ended up turning the ball over fewer times than the Bucks.
"We got four shot-clock violations (on defense) or something crazy like that," Oladipo said. "When we buy into that, the other end is so much easier."
They also made 10 3-point field goals, shot almost twice as many free throws as the Bucks, and outrebounded them 45-38. But those numbers paled in importance to the presence of the guy with the number 5 on the back of his jersey.
"Man, it just feels good to play basketball again, know what I mean?" Oladipo said. "Now we’ve just got to rack up some wins and keep it going and not be satisfied."
With him around, that goal seems well within their grasp.