Injuries obviously suck and Warren missing out on what's turned out to be virtually two whole seasons is truly unfortunate for an NBA player in his prime. But an additional tragedy is that his injury woes came right after a legendary run in the infamous 2020 NBA bubble just a few months prior.
The unusual side effect of his absence from the court since then is that the last existing memory of TJ Warren among NBA circles is his celebrated showing during the bubble that took the Disney housed league by storm.
With his looming return to an NBA court all but certain after signing on with the Nets, let's revisit TJ Warren's brief stint as a basketball god among men during the NBA bubble.:
4 iconic moments from TJ Warren's bubble run
#1 – The first game
As the old saying goes, first impressions last. TJ Warren made sure to signal his arrival in style during the very first taste of NBA bubble action. During the first day of bubble play, Warren erupted for 53 points against the Philadelphia 76ers in what's become the signature game of his career.
Warren went an astounding 20-for-29 from the field, including nine made three-pointers to bury the Sixers in a 127-121 loss. The fact that he was able to do this on defensive stalwarts Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Matisse Thybulle made it extra impressive.
Not only that, but TJ Warren also sank the game-sealing dagger with the shot clock winding down to put the Sixers away for good. A nice, round 50-burger would have been sweet, but the man wanted the W even more for 53.
TJ Warren showed no mercy against the 76ers!!
53 PTS (20-29 FG, 9-12 3PT)4 REB 3 AST 2 BLK
— Chaz Smith🏴☠️ (@_chazsmith) August 2, 2020
#2 – Warren carries Pacers to 3-0
TJ Warren cooled off after his 53-point eruption against the Sixers. But anything short of another 50-piece would be considered frigid after that debut display.
Warren continued to put up points like prime playoff Kobe in the next two contests, averaging 33 points on an absurd 62.8 percent shooting clip from the field against the hapless Washington Wizards and the hometown Orlando Magic, both resulting in wins to push the Pacers to an undefeated 3-0 record. He did more than just score in those two contests, tacking on 6.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 3.0 steals, and 2.5 blocks to completely stuff the stat sheet.
His dissection of the Magic was extra impressive, scoring his 32 points on just 17 shots thanks to missing just four attempts all evening:
— Sixth Man Brasil (@SixthManBr) August 5, 2020
#3 – TJ Warren goes at King James and didn't miss
Warren did have a couple of stinkers in two of his last three games, averaging a human 14 points per game which is right around his career average.
But those games sandwiched arguably an even more impressive showing than his 53-point effort. TJ Warren outmatched LeBron James and the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers in a 116-11 win. LeBron poured in 31 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists in the losing effort as the bubble king was no match for the bubble god.
TJ Warren torched the Lakers all evening with 39 points on an extremely efficient 15-for-22 from the field to go along with five rebounds and five three-pointers. It's no surprise he compiled a game-high +22 in what turned out to be a five-point win.
Just like he did against the Sixers in his bubble debut, he sank the dagger triple to close out the contest in style:
PUT SOME RESPECT ON HIS NAME 🗣
TJ Warren drops 39 and the Pacers defeat the Lakers 116-111 👀
— Overtime (@overtime) August 9, 2020
#4 – Bubble TJ vs. Bubble Butler
As amazing as TJ Warren was in the NBA bubble, the man who raised his profile the most was also the man responsible for ending the Pacers' run in definitive fashion. Jimmy Butler led the Miami Heat to the NBA Finals in what was one of the most inspiring runs from an individual playoff performer ever seen in recent history.
Before the Heat-Pacers first-round matchup, Warren and Butler had beef brewing much earlier in the season – which Butler surely didn't forget about.
On paper, TJ Warren arguably had the better first-round series. He averaged 20.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 2.3 steals per game on an efficient 47.1 percent clip without missing a single free throw. Butler didn't have his best shooting series against the Pacers, but he pummeled them with his physicality and consistently getting to the free throw line, averaging 10.5 attempts throughout the 4-0 series sweep.
Will we ever see bubble TJ Warren ever again? Probably not. But given the clean bill of health he's gotten as he makes his way towards an NBA return for the Brooklyn Nets, he'll be getting buckets again real soon.