Isaiah Thomas made the most of his return to the NBA, even if the game's result didn't go to plan for the Lakers.
The 32-year-old guard's comeback trail began last week when he signed a contract with the Denver Nuggets' G League affiliate, Grand Rapids Gold, to prove he still belongs in the NBA. It didn't take long for him to get the recognition he was looking for, pouring in 42 points in his G League debut on Thursday to put scouts, coaches, executives and players on notice.
Just one day later, in light of the recent COVID-19 outbreak that has ravaged more than a handful of NBA rosters, it was reported that Thomas would sign with the shorthanded Lakers on a 10-day hardship contract, giving him the opportunity he deserved to try and make a return to the league.
His pathway to playing time took a slight hit when star guard Russell Westbrook was reactivated just one day after being placed on the COVID-19 list due to negative tests, but as it turned out, Thomas still saw more than enough minutes to show what he's capable of in a reduced role.
For more on the two-time All-Star's return to the NBA, we have you covered below.
NBA League Pass: Sign up to unlock live out-of-market games (7-day free trial)
How did Isaiah Thomas play in his Lakers debut?
Even though the Lakers were trounced by the Timberwolves, Thomas still made his impact felt.
In 22 minutes off the bench, Thomas went for 19 points, shooting 5-of-12 from the field, 2-for-6 from 3-point range and 7-for-9 from the free throw line.
🔥 @isaiahthomas puts up 19 points in his return to the @Lakers and his 2021-22 NBA debut! pic.twitter.com/tgblSNIWGX- NBA (@NBA) December 18, 2021
According to StatMuse, only Carmelo Anthony and Malik Monk have scored more points in a single game off the bench for the Lakers this season.
The biggest difference of this version of IT compared to the versions we saw with the Wizards in 2019-20 and the Pelicans (in three games on a 10-day contract) last season? Looking much more healthy since making a full recovery from a devastating hip injury, he had his quick first step back, driving to the basket often instead of just settling for outside jumpers.
His first bucket was a floater in the lane - a crucial shot to have in the arsenal for a 5-foot-9 guard - and he knocked down a few of those throughout the night.
Isaiah Thomas floater in his @Lakers return on ESPN! 🙌 pic.twitter.com/KxZTYIP7g2- NBA (@NBA) December 18, 2021
His nine free throw attempts were the most he has had in a game since Dec. 19, 2019 with the Wizards, proving that he was back to attacking the rim like his All-Star days.
On this 10-day contract, Thomas' job is to eat up bench minutes and be a professional scorer. He did also chip in two boards, one assist and one "block" (which was really a strip steal), recording a +/- of minus-one, which was the highest mark of any Lakers player that played over 20 minutes.
It was great to see Thomas back on an NBA floor and even better to see that he blended in as if he never left.
What did Isaiah Thomas say on his Lakers debut?
It was a long journey back to the league for the former All-NBA guard and after the game, he gave some heartfelt, insightful quotes on his return.
Per ESPN's Dave McMenamin, Thomas stated, "My low moments were just not being able to play at the level I'm accustomed to playing at. Like, that was very frustrating when your mind is telling you to do something but your body won't allow you to do it.
"That was my first major injury so that was like, basketball is everything to me, so it really stopped me from being who I am. ... Those were some of the lowest moments of my life."
Thomas continued, "Obviously, in '17, my sister passed away and then like everything went downhill it felt like. But I laid on my support system, which is my family.
"The dopest moment for me? When I checked into the game and they really cheered for me. And this is an away game. Those moments mean more to me than anything, just because people respect what I do and people respect the grind that I'm on.
A standing ovation for Isaiah Thomas as he checks into the game ❤️ pic.twitter.com/K8gYsYff6Z- ESPN (@espn) December 18, 2021
"This whole situation, I'm so thankful for it. I never thought I would ... not saying I didn't think I'd be back in the NBA, I just never thought I'd feel this way again. Like, I have no limitations with my body, with my hip, and that's why I just smile so much because I'm just in a great place mentally and a great place physically."
Thomas and the Lakers return to action on Sunday, Dec. 19 against the Chicago Bulls.
The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.