In his first game since undergoing surgery in January to remove a cancerous mass on his kidney, Caris LeVert made his Indiana Pacers debut with 13 points and six rebounds in 27 minutes to help his team defeat the Phoenix Suns 122-111 on Saturday.
LeVert admitted to feeling “heavy legs” while struggling to regain his wind and conditioning but said he was pleased with the results.
“A month and a half ago, two months ago, I didn’t even know if I knew I was even gonna be out here, especially this soon, just with everything that happened, so it’s definitely a level of gratefulness and just happy to be on the court,” LeVert said.
Emotionally, the Pacers organization tried to make LeVert feel comfortable.
He hadn’t played in an NBA contest since Jan. 12 as a member of the Brooklyn Nets, before being traded to Indiana. The small mass on his left kidney was discovered during a team physical and medical test prior to the trade being finalized.
In LeVert’s debut in Phoenix, the Pacers snapped a two-game losing streak in a stretch of six losses in seven games. Two-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis posted a triple-double with 22 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.
Pacers coach Nate Bjorkgren said he felt LeVert’s presence was a boost for the team. After the game, when the guard entered the locker room, his teammates celebrated his return with loud claps and support.
“Absolutely, he energized our team, and his character level is so high,” Bjorkgren said. “He’s such a good person. He’s been a great teammate throughout this entire time that he’s been out, so our guys were very happy to have him back out there on the court.”
Bjorkgren expects “a lot more” out of LeVert moving forward as he continues to adjust.
LeVert said this was his second time participating in 5-on-5 action since his health ordeal.
“We’ve got a resilient group. We’ve got great guys on the team, and they were in my ear the whole game today, even leading up to the game,” LeVert said. “I can’t thank those guys enough, and it’s gonna be a special rest of the season, for sure, once everybody starts clicking and things like that. We played a great game as a team.”