LOS ANGELES -- There were many times when J.J. Redick doubted this day would come.
The negative thoughts he had tried to ignore slapped him in the face every time he tried to make the most simple movements on the basketball court.
Maybe he wouldn't play in another NBA game this season. Maybe he'd be relegated to wearing a suit at the end of the bench and watching the Los Angeles Clippers carry on without him. Maybe he'd have to wait a year before he would be able to take the court again with his teammates.
Those maybes seemed a certainty not too long ago, when the Clippers appeared poised to shut down Redick for the rest of the season when his rehabilitation from a bulging disk in his lower back was delayed.
"There were many days that I thought that," Redick said. "It's probably the most frustrating injury I've had. There was no timeline. There was literally not much I could do about it. One day you're running off screens and the next day you can't do one-legged step-up or a one-legged squat. You can't do anything on your right leg.
"I'm not going to say there were dark days; I'm a positive person. But there were days where I was like, this is serious."
Although Redick's injury has always been described as a bulging disk in his lower back, the main issue for him wasn't so much the back but the nerve irritation affecting his right leg. When the nerve was responding correctly, Redick was able to be himself; when it wasn't, he could hardly walk.
"There's not really a whole lot you can do for nerves, except to operate, and I don't want to go that route," Redick said. "I had some epidurals and the pain is pretty minimal in my back. But the issue has been the nerve and how my leg is functioning or not functioning."
Redick, who had missed the last 25 games, returned Thursday in a 113-107 loss to the Dallas Mavericks and scored 12 points in 24 minutes off the bench. Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Redick would be back to the starting lineup soon but wanted to restrict his minutes to less than 25 during his return.
"I didn't feel limited," Redick said. "I felt limited by my rustiness, but physically I didn't feel any limitations. We don't practice a lot and I was in warm-ups today and I'm like, what the f--- am I doing?"
Redick, who had been averaging 15.7 points, 2.2 assists and 2.1 rebounds in 30 games this season, also missed 21 games before to the 25-game stretch because of a fractured right wrist.
He looked rusty at times Thursday, hitting 2-of-10 from the field and 2-of-6 beyond the arc. And he missed a potential go-ahead 3 in the final minute of the game.
"Whether it was realistic or not, I expected myself to play a great game tonight and I didn't," Redick said. "I felt like I could've given us a bigger boost, not just shooting but with energy and stuff especially coming off a trip. And I didn't give my team that. I'm frustrated with myself."
The original plan after the Clippers' recent five-game trip was to bring back Redick for Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers. But Redick felt well enough to play Thursday.
Fortunately, the final stretch run of the season works out well for Redick and the Clippers, coming with two days off in between games for the next four matchups.
"I was making progress and I just felt like let's go ahead and play," Redick said. "Having days in between and going into the playoffs where there is no back-to-backs, hopefully this is something I can manage for the rest of the season."
Redick's transition back into the lineup was about as seamless as Rivers expected. He's the type of player who works off of motion and doesn't need the ball in his hands to make an impact on the game.
"Well, it's easy to fit him in with your team. I just worry about him being too hard on himself," Rivers said. "He's probably the easiest guy in the league -- him and Ray [Allen]. And any guy that runs off of screens without the ball, you can literally just throw them in tomorrow, and you can run offense and it will work. So he's easy in that way.
"He's missed a lot of games; he played in the game tonight without having a practice for him in 10 to 12 days, so he's just got to be patient."
As Redick tries to balance being patient and striving for perfection, he smiles when he thinks how close he came to not putting on a jersey again this season.
"I'm just very humbled and grateful that I got to play an NBA game this season," Redick said. "There were definitely some moments and days where it didn't look that way. I'm just happy to be back on the court."