Jusuf Nurkic's strong performances to mark the start of his NBA return were inspiring for a couple of reasons.
For one, the big man hadn't played in an NBA game since he fractured his tibia and fibula on March 25, 2019, after a gruesome fall. It affected not only him, but also his teammates and the NBA universe, similarly to the injuries to Paul George, Kevin Ware and others that rocked the sports world.
But his performance was not only inspired by a mission to bounce back from an injury with potential long-term implications. There was a more emotional, personal matter at hand.
After the first of two games that Nurkic has played in the Orlando bubble to this point, he announced that his grandmother, Hana, had tested positive for coronavirus and was in a coma (via Aaron Fentress of OregonLive). At 67 years old, she's at-risk for more serious health complications and was a factor in Nurkic's hesitation to take part in the NBA restart. However, it seemed that the threat of returning home was what may have saved his grandmother's life, as Nurkic said that his grandmother initially refused to go to the hospital and only went after the Blazers' center said he would come home and opt out of the season if she kept refusing.
However, after the Blazers' second game of the restart -- one in which Nurkic doubled down on his strong debut and posted 30 points, nine boards and five assists -- he reported some good news: his grandmother had awakened from her coma. Though he is still understandably concerned about his grandmother's health, he was optimistic given the fact that she had come out of the coma.
With two losses from the Pelicans and a tight race for the ninth seed between the Blazers and several other Western Conference teams, Nurkic isn't going to leave the bubble, for now.
“I know what I mean to this team and I came here to make the playoffs,” he said.
As he alluded to, his role with the team is a crucial one. He's taken the minutes off of Hassan Whiteside's shoulders and has been very productive in his role as the primary big man in the offense, complementing Zach Collins and averaging 24 points, nine rebounds, five assists, 3.5 blocks and two steals in the first two games of NBA's return to action.