Turiaf's return provides bright spot in his injury-plagued season
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MINNEAPOLIS -- While it could be said for the Minnesota Timberwolves as a whole, this season has certainly not gone the way Ronny Turiaf envisioned when the year began.
Signed to a two-year deal back in July, the veteran center's first season with the Wolves has been spent trying to break out of a frustratingly persistent injury spell.
First it was a fractured elbow, suffered in Minnesota's second game of the year, which kept him sidelined for 31 games. Then, just over a month into his return came a deep bone bruise on his right knee. Again, he was saddled with an injury that was slow to heal.
But after missing another 19 games, Turiaf finally got the second reprieve he had been working for. Making the game-day decision that he was ready to test out his knee, Turiaf returned to the court Wednesday against Memphis for the first time since Feb. 19.
After what he deemed as an extremely frustrating and challenging recovery, Turiaf had no expectations for his return other than an emotional release from weeks of being forced to sit behind the bench in a suit.
"I honestly did not care what happened today and I told the guys that," Turiaf said afterward. "I said, 'Guys, I haven't played with you in six weeks. Don't be mad at me. I'm just going to go out there and have some fun.'"
Well, Turiaf indeed had the good time he wanted. With the free-spirited energy that is his trademark, the 6-foot-11, 241-pound center unleashed for 11 points (5-of-5) and seven rebounds. He paired with rookie Gorgui Dieng to impressively hold the Grizzlies frontcourt in-check en route to a 102-88 victory.
Fighting through a layer of fatigue, Turiaf ended up logging 22 minutes, including all but 42.9 seconds of the fourth quarter.
"Tired, tired, tired and then some fun at the end," Turiaf joked when asked how he felt about his first game back.
Coach Rick Adelman was expecting to go into Wednesday's game with Dieng as his lone center, with Nikola Pekovic (ankle) already ruled out. So when Turiaf came to him in the afternoon to say he wanted to give it a go, it came as a surprise to the coach.
"It's amazing, because when we scrimmaged about five days ago, I didn't think there was anyway we'd see this this quick. I guess he's been saving it," Adelman said with a grin
As Turiaf worked through a rigorous rehab with team trainers, the pain in his knee was slow to dissipate. Turiaf said he gradually began ramping up his on-court activities about a week ago (1-on-1, 5-on-0 drills, etc.). But until Wednesday, it had been six weeks since he had done any 5-on-5 work.
"It actually sucks," Turiaf said of his knee. "It's something that for about two or three days you're not going to feel it, and then all of a sudden when you do one movement you feel this sharp pain like somebody is sticking a needle into the inside of your knee. It's very mentally challenging, but it's something that you have to bear with the pain."
Turiaf seemed to pick up where he left off. Before he was injured for the second time, the 31-year-old Turiaf was in the midst of one of the best stretches of his career. Starting in place of the injured Pekovic, he had been averaging 6.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 28 total blocks across an 11-game span.
In the stretches in which Turiaf has been out, his presence in the Wolves' struggling bench rotation has been sorely missed. He gives the Wolves an always-energetic defensive output and rebounding source that they have been hard-pressed to make up for when he is out.
Turiaf's long-term absences may not be the sole difference-maker in Minnesota's disappointingly mediocre season, but his impact on the second unit when fully healthy has been noticeable. With the Wolves looking for a strong finish in a lost season, any minutes they can get from Turiaf off the bench in their final eight games should be seen as a positive.