By STEVE MEGARGEE
AP Sports Writer
MILWAUKEE (AP) — Milwaukee Bucks guard Donte DiVincenzo had a Christmas return on his mind as he made his comeback from an ankle injury that kept him from joining his teammates for much of their championship ride last season.
DiVincenzo was right on target, though not quite in the way he imagined.
He was on track to make his season debut in mid-December before the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols set him back. DiVincenzo finally returned for a Christmas Day victory over the Boston Celtics and is ready to do whatever he can to help the Bucks in their title defense.
“I targeted December the whole time and I just stuck by that,” DiVincenzo said Monday. “Because for me, as a competitor, as a player, you want to have something to work towards. I didn’t want to just kind of go in every day and just start doing rehab. I had this mindset I’m coming back in December. And ironically, in my head, I was saying Christmas.
“So, when they said, ‘Hey, you’re ready to come back the 15th,’ or whatever, I felt great. I would take it because it’s early. So then when the protocol happened, like I said, it was all part of God’s plan for me. I came back on Christmas. I had that mindset the whole time and I just stuck by it.”
DiVincenzo scored three points and played 16 minutes in the 117-113 win on Saturday but is expected to have a larger role as the season progresses. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard started all 66 regular-season games he played last year and averaged 10.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists while shooting 37.9% from 3-point range.
But he didn’t get to do much in the playoffs. DiVincenzo tore a ligament in his left ankle in Game 3 of a first-round series with the Miami Heat. He wouldn’t play again until Saturday.
“Seeing Donte out there was definitely a joy, just knowing what he’s been through and how much he’s meant to us and what he’s missed,” guard Jrue Holiday said after the Celtics game. “I know he loves the game, loves being out there.”
DiVincenzo, 24, said he felt a little rusty Saturday because he was unable to practice with the team while in the protocols. He said he was asymptomatic, but he still had to do his conditioning work at home and couldn’t use the team facility.
“I’m doing my pregame shooting and the ball feels a little weird,” DiVincenzo said. “You don’t think 10 days go by and you’re going to kind of lose feel and lose touch to it, but I’m telling you, you’re such a creature of habit and routine, when you don’t have that every day, it messes you up for a little while.”
DiVincenzo played on two national championship teams at Villanova and was named the most outstanding player of the 2018 Final Four. He’d love to match that total in the NBA by helping Milwaukee win a second straight title.
Only this time, he’d actually be playing rather than watching and rehabbing.
DiVincenzo acknowledged that it wasn’t easy having to deal with an injury while the Bucks made their championship run. He credited Bucks guard George Hill and former teammates Eric Bledsoe and Jeff Teague for helping him through the lengthy recovery.
Whenever he was feeling down, DiVincenzo could ask one of those veterans how they dealt with similar situations.
“Everybody goes through struggles being away from what they do, and those three guys really helped me out,” DiVincenzo said. “And I had my family. My family’s really my backbone. Even being out, I was the MVP last year to my family. Having that support is so important for me. Good day, bad day, whatever it is, they build me up and keep me up high.”
Now he is back and eager to have more good days than bad days.
“I’m healthy,” DiVincenzo said. “I feel great. My body feels good, so that’s all I can ask for.”
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