New York — Brandon Jennings knew the day was coming. It was just a matter of time.
So when it was time to get back on the court, he was ready.
After an absence of 11 months and five days, Jennings returned to an NBA game for the first time since tearing his Achilles tendon last season. Jennings made his season debut against the New York Knicks on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden and notched seven points and four assists in 17 minutes.
But it was just the feeling of playing in a game again that was important to him.
“(I had) butterflies in the beginning,” Jennings said. “After the second time I came in, I was all right. I was just trying to find guys and just try to run the show.”
Jennings, 26, was active and had dressed the last three games, but didn’t play. He found out during Tuesday’s shoot-around that he would get a chance to play against the Knicks and to begin working his way back into the rotation, supplanting Steve Blake as the backup point guard.
Coach Stan Van Gundy said there was no specific time to make the switch with the two points guards, but just went with what he thought was right.
“Now, Friday, Thursday, Saturday. He was ready. We’re either going to play him now or the next game,” Van Gundy said. “I was just waiting to see when he was ready. We have to put him out there and see where he is.”
Jennings entered at 2:47 of the first quarter and finished the period, finishing a five-minute stint in the first half. He attempted a lob pass to Andre Drummond but was off the mark and made a couple other passes that teammates weren’t ready to handle.
“He was all right, first time out there,” Van Gundy said. “He wasn’t great, but he wasn’t bad. He was OK.”
In the second half, he seemed more composed and within the flow of the game, searching to get others involved before hunting for his shot.
He hit a 3-pointer and finished the game with a lay-in just before the final buzzer.
It’s just one game, but it’s a building block to gradual improvement.
“I was trying to get my teammates involved and try to get them going,” Jennings said. “Try to get as many good shots as we could. We got a bunch of good looks; we just didn’t knock them down.”
While Van Gundy was concerned with Jennings’ lateral movement and defense in his rehab game with the Grand Rapids Drive of the D-League, there didn’t seem to be the same angst about his performance on Tuesday.
Jennings will gauge the foot on Wednesday as well, to ensure there isn’t any residual pain or complication from playing.
Although he admitted he passed on some shots because he didn’t feel he was in an offensive rhythm, Jennings will continue to work his way back and try to become the spark plug off the bench that the Pistons have lacked early in the season.