OAKLAND - For weeks, Warriors rookie guard Jacob Evans has had a simple question for his injured teammate Damian Jones.
"When you coming back?"
And for the last few weeks, Jones - who tore his left pectoral muscle more than six months ago - has given the same answer to Evans.
"I don't know."
The conversation changed 90 minutes before Golden State's 116-94 victory in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals over the Portland Trail Blazers when Evans posed the question once more.
"Yo, I'm active," Jones, who finished with three points and a rebound in one minute, responded moments after getting the news from assistant coach Luke Loucks.
For a team that's looking for reinforcement in the frontcourt, Jones could provide a push at just the right time for Golden State.
"He's been working unbelievably hard and he's such a great kid," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "So it's nice to see DJ back on the floor."
Late in an early season loss to the Detroit Pistons, Jones was battling for a rebound with big man Andre Drummond when his left arm got tangled, ripping apart his pectoral muscle. Hours after the injury, an MRI at nearby Henry Ford Hospital confirmed the tear, requiring surgery and sidelining him indefinitely.
Jones had been through a similar shoulder rehabilitation before. Twelve days before the 2016 NBA Draft, he tore his right pectoral muscle following a bench pressing workout with the Orlando Magic. Despite getting selected 30th overall by the Warriors nearly two weeks later, his rookie season was all but gone. Two years later, even after the six-month recovery timeline, Jones remained confident he'd return this season.
"I figured I'd be back in time," Jones told NBC Sports Bay Area. "But you don't know if you're going to play or not because you've been out of action for a while so just having that in mind. So I had to stay prepared while knowing I could be done for the year."
Following the injury in December, Jones immediately began his rehab regimen, doing on-court workouts with his arm in a sling, maintaining his conditioning levels. By February, he began light shooting drills, performing hook shots just outside of five-feet. Last week, he was officially cleared for on-court live contact. Up until Tuesday's game, Jones' opponents were typically either Marcus Derrickson and Damion Lee, Golden State's two-way players, and a variation of Warriors assistant coaches Chris DeMarco, Jarron Collins and Loucks.
"He was cleared, basically in the last couple of days," Kerr said. "As of shootaround today, we had declared him out because we sort of, in, that routine over the last several months, and when we got to the stadium, the training staff said he can go tonight. We had an extra roster spot because of our injuries and put him out there."
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For the Warriors - without starting center DeMarcus Cousins - Jones provides an athletic big man who can contribute. With 16 seconds left in game, Jones went baseline on Blazers forward Zach Collins, getting his first points in months, prompting an extended cheer from the bench. With the season coming to a close and frontcourt help needed, it's not impossible to see Jones trying the post move in meaningful minutes. For now, his teammates are content with just having him back in the fold.
"It was good to see him back out there," Green said. "To see him get out there and get an opportunity to play tonight was key and I wouldn't be shocked if sometime in this series. He's thrown out there for some real minutes."