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Jonas Valanciunas practice shot by Paul Saini (Fylmm.com)

Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Is The Beast Of The Playoff East

The last time an NBA player totaled over 30 points and 30 rebounds in their first two career playoff games was almost 7 years before the Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas was even born. In 1985, both ‘Big Smooth’ Sam Perkins did it with the Mavericks as a 23-year-old rookie and the future Hall-of-Fame Ralph Sampson did it as a 24-year-old sophomore with the Houston Rockets.

 

 

The 21-year-old Valanciunas, in his second NBA season, recorded a franchise playoff best 18 rebounds to go with 17 points in game one against the Nets on Saturday. Then he followed that up with a 15 point 14 rebound effort in game two for 32 points and 32 rebounds over his first two playoff games.

Valanciunas was expecting the Nets to do something different in game two of the series after his big opening performance, but all he was looking for was a way to win.

“Probably they are going to do something as everybody wants to defend,” Valanciunas said. “If we play like the first game with the same energy, fix a couple of things on defense, we can win.

“I am expecting to win and I believe we can win. We are going to play hard. We are going to execute right, defend right, we are going to win. I believe in my team.”

On a Raptors team with little recent – or any – playoff experience, Valanciunas was the one Raptors player that seemed to feed off the unbelievable Toronto home crowd energy from the very beginning and he was hoping for more of the same in game two.

“Fans were great,” Valanciunas said. “I hope they are going to come back and support us like the first time. I feel good things (from the fans). They support us. They made us go. I like fans. I need fans. I need someone to support me. That’s why I can go hard.”

Kevin Garnett did make adjustments for game two and was a much tougher cover for the Raptors young center. However, Valanciunas was still able to dominate on the glass and score in the paint.

“(Garnett) is a pretty good middle range shooter, so it is kind of hard to guard him because he can space out and pop out and shoot those middle range shots,” Valanciunas said. “It was harder than the first game. I am just using my size, quickness and power against him and just going hard. I don’t have a lot of skills yet, but I can go hard, play hard 100 percent, so that’s what I do. That’s what (my coaches) are telling me to do.”

Valanciunas isn’t under any delusions about where his skill set is after just two seasons in the NBA. He is just loving this chance to get some postseason experience so early in his career.

“I am getting that experience,” Valanciunas said. “I am growing as a player. The playoffs give me a lot because I have never been in playoffs and all of a sudden I am in playoffs and getting that playoff touch, so that is going to help me grow as a player a lot.”

The Raptors are young, inexperienced and finished the season well ahead of anyone’s expectations. The only reason they are here is because of team chemistry. They play as a team and for their teammates.

“I am playing for my team,” Valanciunas said. “I am not playing for my stats. I want to give something for the team to win. I don’t look at the stats. I have 14 rebounds, I need one more, I don’t do that. I see that they can’t get a rebound and can I go take that rebound and protect the rim, that’s how I see it.”

The last time the Raptors had a big man with the impact Valanciunas is showing was during the playoff runs in 2000, 2001, and 2002 with Anthony Davis providing the muscle. In the Raptors first trip to the postseason, the 31-year-old Davis only averaged 13 points and 8.3 rebounds over three games. The next year as a first time All-Star, he totaled 34 points and 27 rebounds in the first two games against New York and averaged 16.4 points and 11.1 rebounds over 12 playoff games. In 2002, Davis totaled 36 points and 28 rebounds in the first two games against Detroit and averaged 17 points and 10.6 rebounds over five games.

Davis was a decade older than Valanciunas when he first represented the Raptors in the playoffs. He enjoyed the best seasons of his 13-year career in Toronto.

It’s been a while since a big man has made this kind of impact on the NBA playoffs in his first two games – it’s been 29 years. Valanciunas is doing the unexpected. He stepped up his level of play from regular season in lock step with the postseason energy from the fans in the building. Hopefully he can feed off the energy directed towards the Nets players when game three kicks off in Brooklyn.

“I was just playing,” Valanciunas insisted. “I was just playing like always, trying to rebound, trying to defend.”

Valanciunas was just playing at a level no one had seen from him before the playoffs started in games one and two.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

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Jonas Valanciunas photo credit: Paul Saini