After a 10-month recovery from a torn left Achilles injury he suffered on Feb. 6th in Orlando, Chauncey Billups made his long-awaited debut against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night.
The evening went as planned. The Clippers ran the first play of the game for him, on purpose, and he knocked down a 3-pointer to help set the tone for the evening. He played a tad under 20 minutes; Head Coach Vinny Del Negro wants to “ease him in to things.” And, most importantly, the Clippers got the victory, eking out a 101-95 win over the Timberwolves that went down to the wire.
But some good nights lead to bad mornings. The 36-year-old Billups woke up on Thursday with an extremely sore back. His words of the account were a little more vivid.
“Man, I felt like I got hit by a Mack Truck,” he told a flock of reporters after Friday’s practice. A practice that, well, Billups didn’t participate in.
Despite the soreness he felt, and the fact that he said if the Clippers had had a back-to-back game on Thursday he wouldn’t have played, Billups is expected to suit up for tomorrow’s shoot-around and then play in Saturday night’s game against the Sacramento Kings.
“I figure it’s probably going to be like this for the first three or four weeks I’m playing, similar to when guys go to training camp and those first few days. But it was still fun and worth it,” said Billups.
There usually isn’t a silver lining when a player is feeling discomfort, but there is in Billups’ case. He feels no pain in his leg or the very Achilles that troubled him for so long, only in his back. Which, of course, is temporary and mainly due to the fact he’s been out so long.
In the meantime, Billups is trying to get back to being the player he was before the injury. He knows he has a ways to go. It’s a challenge to fully recover from a severe injury, especially when an NBA player is on the wrong side of 30, but Billups is up for it.
“Now I look forward to regaining my old form. I’m going to be very patient with that,” said Billups. “Just me being back is, for me, a success and a blessing. I’m going to be happy with that until everything else comes around.”
It doesn’t hurt to be starting alongside his old crew from last season: DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin, Caron Butler and his little brother, Chris Paul. Billups said he knows where Griffin and Butler like to score, is always on the same page as Paul, and has been impressed with Jordan’s low-post development.
“DeAndre [Jordan] has established himself as a guy who you can throw the ball to and he can make something positive happen for you. Whether it’s get fouled or get the bucket or he’s even done a good job of drawing two defenders and kicking it out. That’s an added weapon we didn’t have last year.”
As a result of Billups’ return, there was a shakeup in the backcourt. Former starting shooting guard Willie Green did not play against Minnesota, and now appears to be the possible odd man out of the rotation.
When asked about his role potentially changing, reserve combo guard Eric Bledsoe didn’t feel that would be the case, despite the likelihood that Billups will command more minutes than Green’s 18.4 per game.
“Not at all. I still got to come in and bring energy every night. Chauncey coming back doesn’t change a thing with me,” said Bledsoe.
There was a chance, at 36 years old, that Billups would never return from his injury. That it would be career-ending. But he used that doubt as motivation to come back before his original return date.
“When I went down, I wasn’t going to hear the word, ‘No,’ or ‘He’s done,’” Billups said after Wednesday night’s game. “I wasn’t going to listen to any of you who said that, because a lot of you were saying that and I wasn’t going to give in to it. For me, just being out there, no matter how the game went, as long as we won, it was a success for me.”