PORTLAND — More than a year after an ACL tear in December 2021 ended his previous season, Cleveland Cavaliers guard Ricky Rubio returned to the court Thursday, helping the Cavaliers to a 119-113 come-from-behind win over the host Portland Trail Blazers .
Playing on a minutes limit, Rubio saw 10 minutes of action off the bench, scoring nine points on 3-of-5 shooting and grabbing three rebounds.
“It felt good,” Rubio said of his first game. “It felt weird in the beginning, especially the first time, but after that it felt back to normal. Of course rhythm and all that stuff will come, but today was a lot of emotions out there. Working hard all year just to be healthy and grateful to be out there playing basketball again.”
Rubio’s Cleveland teammates were equally excited to see him back on the court. He was a key part of the Cavaliers’ fast start last season, but was traded to the Indiana Pacers during his rehabilitation before returning to Cleveland as a free agent, citing the team’s chemistry as a reason to come back.
An offseason trade also reunited Rubio with Cavaliers newcomer Donovan Mitchell, his teammate for the first two seasons of Mitchell’s career with the Utah Jazz.
“I couldn’t stop smiling,” Mitchell said. “It felt like my rookie year. For me, it’s just a full-circle moment, but it’s great to see him out there after the ACL. And also, hitting two big 3s for us, leading the offense.”
Initially, Cleveland coach JB Bickerstaff told reporters he planned to play Rubio in two stints in the first half. Because Rubio was on the court less than six minutes total, Bickerstaff was able to bring him back for a third stretch in the third quarter.
Afterwards, Rubio said he felt good physically because his cardio training has been more challenging than game action.
The Cavaliers have been cautious with the timetable for Rubio, who said he has been ready to play “for a long time.” He said he understands that long-term mindset for a team that improved to 27-16 with Thursday’s win, good for fourth in the Eastern Conference.
“I didn’t work just to come back today,” Rubio said. “I worked hard to come back stronger than ever. It’s not just about today. I’m looking forward to having a strong season, not just a comeback season.”
Still, Rubio could appreciate the milestone of his first NBA game in 380 days.
“It’s been frustrating since then,” he said, “but finally I’m out there playing basketball, playing the game I love. Being out there, that’s how I speak, I would say, through my game and how I share that chemistry with [my teammates].”