Portland center Jusuf Nurkic entered his team's restart opener against Memphis on Friday with plenty on his mind. And it didn't have anything to do with the unusual circumstances, or the fact he was playing his first game since breaking his leg near the end of the 2018-19 regular season.
Nurkic shared after Friday's contest, a critical overtime victory for the Trail Blazers in which Nurkic played a key role, that his 67-year-old grandmother Hana had recently fallen into a coma after contracting COVID-19 in their native Bosnia.
"The last couple of days have been the toughest days of my life," he said. "I think people don't realize the (pandemic) is real out there. We've been fortunate to be here in a safe environment, we're tested every day, but please take care of yourself, wear a damn mask if you need to wear it."
Nurkic kept those emotions at bay for his long-awaited return, in which he piled up 18 points, nine rebounds, five assists and six blocks before fouling out in the fourth. The Blazers went on to survive in overtime, cutting the Grizzlies' lead for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference to 2.5 games.
Nurkic, 25, said he first learned about his grandmother's illness late last week. Reluctant to go to the hospital, she finally relented when her grandson threatened to fly home and make her.
"I think that kind of made up her mind to go to the hospital," he said. "Hopefully it's not too late."