CHICAGO — A soulful voice echoed throughout the visitors locker room inside the United Center following the Indiana Pacers’ 108-102 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Friday.
The harmonic notes came from proud Victor Oladipo.
Oladipo was initially listed as questionable (knee) for the game, but he returned from a two-game absence to post 16 points and four assists to help Indiana beat Chicago for the ninth consecutive time.
In pregame, halftime and postgame moments in the United Center, team physicians were spotted working on Oladipo’s knee on a hallway table to contain the swelling. The right knee was visibly puffy in the locker room as he addressed reporters from his locker before showering. Oladipo said his mental toughness is what’s keeping him pushing.
“I believe I can get and overcome any obstacle, any situation, anything I’m in,” Oladipo said. “At the end of the day, I am human, so you have some days where you’re up and some days where you’re down, but consistently, I’m a killer.”
“I might can sing, I might be a nice guy, but deep down inside, I’m locked in, so that’s where the mental toughness comes from. I can always come back,” he added. “I’m trying to be the greatest. Yeah, I’ve got a little bump in the road right now, but it’s a part of the story. It’s going to make it that much greater, so I’m just embracing it.”
Oladipo also returned from missing more than a full calendar year of action due to a ruptured quadriceps tendon. Regaining his All-Star form will take time, but Oladipo remains committed to the process of peaking at the right time to help the Pacers make a strong playoff push to close the season.
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“These are things you expect when guys come back,” McMillan said Wednesday in Milwaukee. “This is really the start of the season for Victor. Victor has put in, what, 255 minutes, and these guys have played 2,000 minutes. So, some of these things you kind of expect, and it’s a day-to-day situation with Victor.”
Myles Turner, who posted 15 points and four blocks in Friday’s victory, said he is inspired by Oladipo’s commitment to getting back into form.
“It’s tough psychologically to bounce back from something like that, so he’s taking his time with it, and he’s doing a good job,” Turner said of Oladipo. “With him being one of the team leaders, the way he plays and the way he goes about his business, it bodes well for the guys on the team.”
Oladipo is averaging a career-low 12.4 points on 37.8% shooting in his first 10 games this season, but the competitive fire still burns strong. Just ask Otto Porter Jr., his opponent in Friday’s contest. The Georgetown alum met Oladipo (who played at Indiana) in his neck of the woods in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area as they would play against each other in the offseason and ultimately form a friendship.
Porter also understands Oladipo’s challenges in returning from a long layoff, as the Bulls forward is returning from a 51-game absence with a foot fracture. He has confidence that his “guy” Oladipo will be all right.
“Monsters come out of that area,” Porter said of Oladipo’s home. “It’s tough. Not a lot of people can go through that. He was out a whole year. You’ve got to be mentally strong to come back, because that step that you had, you might’ve lost it, so now you’ve got to work twice as hard just to get it back. So mentally, it’s just hard, so you’ve just got to stay locked in.”