After missing 10 games with a sprained ankle, Toronto Raptors big man Serge Ibaka returned to action Sunday and finished with 13 points, four rebounds and three assists in 21 minutes of action in a big win over the Utah Jazz.
MORE: How did Serge play in his return?
And while he provided a clear reminder of how crucial he is to this team's success, the Raptors managed to post an impressive 8-2 record without both Ibaka and All-Star Kyle Lowry, who is still working to return from a fractured thumb.
Following the team's practice in preparation for Tuesday's game against the Miami Heat, the 11-year veteran spoke with reporters about what he learned while he was sidelined as well as the team's perspective moving forward.
On his first game back
It was tough because [Sunday] night was actually my first time playing five-on-five. I didn't practice with the team for four weeks so last time was my first time really getting contact and playing five-on-five and the first couple of minutes were a little rough but I was not thinking about it because I was so excited and thankful to be back.
On remaining engaged while sidelined
Just keep working. You cannot control everything - you try to control what you can control. Even though I was not there or could not play, I tried to take care of my body - make sure I don't gain weight, just stay ready.
On what he saw from the reserves that filled in
Very impressive. You know, I'm going to be honest with you, I didn't see this coming - they really surprised me. It's a good thing to have them, now we know we have a great team. With those guys, now we know we have a chance to go back harder and compete at a high level.
On being a vocal leader to younger players
I know we need them. After winning a championship, I learned something about this: To win a championship, you need everybody. You need everybody to be out there, everybody to have confidence to play at a high level. Since I want to win another one, I have to make sure that everybody around me is good so I want to start with the young fellas…
Sometimes as a young guy, it's hard to understand that when you come to a team [that's already won something]. Even, you have your talent, you have to do little things to give your coach confidence to put you on the court. So, it's our job as the vets to talk to them and make sure they understand that.
On the team garnering respect after being overlooked
It's kind of funny because at this point, I'm just laughing. The first year, yeah, you say something back to them and now at this point, I'm just laughing because we've been there before… one of the good things we always do here is try to focus on us to try to prove them wrong.
On being No. 7 in ESPN's Power Rankings
We don't really worry about it. They can put us up, they can put us down. Last. First. Wherever, we're going to keep doing our thing. We don't want to ask them to do nothing - hard work is going to speak for us…
In this world where we live, some people are going to love you, some people are going to hate you - that's what it is. You cannot try to force everybody to love you, it's not gonna work. Whoever loves us, they love us. The [people] who don't love us, that's what it is. If we keep moving, we keep doing our thing and we keep getting better and better and now we have our young guys doing a good job for us, that's what matters.