OAKLAND, California — Festus Ezeli got the best birthday present he could imagine: playing in an NBA game.
Ezeli returned to action for the first time in 17 months, scoring 10 points and grabbing three rebounds to help the Golden State Warriors beat the short-handed Los Angeles Clippers 125-107 in Tuesday night's preseason game.
"I felt like I never left," he said. "Because that's what I do."
The backup center added one block in 11 minutes to clear a major milestone in his recovery from right knee surgery. Ezeli played 78 games as a rookie, making 41 starts, before missing all of last season. He also sat out part of training camp the past few weeks with inflammation in his right shin.
Stephen Curry scored 27 points and David Lee had 12 points and six rebounds as the Warriors improved to 5-2 in the preseason.
Jared Cunningham had 23 points and J.J. Redick scored 21 to lead Los Angeles, which fell to 1-5. Clippers coach Doc Rivers rested stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.
Warriors center Andrew Bogut was not with the team because of an illness. Ognjen Kuzmic started in Bogut's place, tallying eight points and 10 rebounds in 26 minutes.
Ezeli, who turned 25 years old Tuesday, celebrated his birthday in a big way. The 6-foot-11 center entered to cheers with 3:05 remaining in the first quarter and made an immediate impact, swatting a shot from Cunningham and hitting a short turnaround jumper over Ekpe Udoh.
He also turned in one of the game's best highlights. Ezeli, wearing a black brace around his knee, sprinted down the lane on a pick-and-roll and caught an alley-oop from Andre Iguodala for a two-handed slam. Iguodala threw his arms in the air, and players jumped out of their seats on Golden State's bench.
Ezeli smiled as he was greeted with hugs and high-fives from teammates at the end of the quarter.
"I just didn't want my first thing to be a bad thing, an air ball or something. I just needed to have something go for me," he said. "Once I got the block, I was good."
Ezeli, who had five fouls, was supposed to start the fourth quarter but motioned to Marreese Speights to take his place after he got a cramp in his calf. A minute later, Ezeli spoke with coach Steve Kerr on the bench before returning for a final series.
"I thought he was very impressive," Kerr said.
The Warriors drafted Ezeli out of Vanderbilt with the 30th pick in the 2012 draft. He hadn't played since a Game 6 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the playoffs on May 16, 2013.
The Clippers: Glen Davis (strained right groin) and Jordan Farmar (lower back tightness) sat out. They are day to day. ... L.A. is 1-5 in the preseason.
The Warriors: Brandon Rush (lower back spasms) and Shaun Livingston (right toe surgery) did not play. Both are expected to miss the Oct. 29 regular-season opener at Sacramento. ... Golden State is 5-2 in the preseason.
Rivers, who was a player and broadcaster before becoming a coach in the NBA, was among those Kerr sought advice from before making the decision to join the Warriors over the New York Knicks in May. Rivers said Kerr "ended up in the right place."
Kerr spent the past few years meeting with coaches before games as a TNT broadcaster. For the first time, he found himself in the coach's office meeting with his old crew, Reggie Miller and Kevin Harlan, before the TNT broadcast. "It's so bizarre because I've walked into that office so many times over the years and now to be on the other side of that desk will be very strange," Kerr said.
Los Angeles hosts Phoenix on Wednesday.
Golden State finishes the preseason Friday night at home against Denver.
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