By Frank McLean
Like a good mystery story the current second round playoff match-up between the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat has taken twists and turns as you try and figure out how this is all going to end.
In Game Three both teams lost their big men at center, Jonas Valanciunas for Toronto with an ankle sprain and Hassan Whiteside of Miami with a knee sprain.
Valanciunas is out for the rest of the series and Whiteside will miss Game Four at the very least. No word if he will be able to go in Game Five Wednesday night back in Toronto.
So with the two big men out for each team this series will get small, real small.
The line-ups might remind older basketball fans of the old World Basketball League in the late 1980’s and early 90’s that was the brain child of Boston Celtics hall of fame legend Bob Cousey. It was for players six foot five and under. No tall people allowed.
However, from the Raptors point of view, it’s next man up at the center spot. Bismack Biyombo will get the start, a few inches smaller than the seven foot Valanciunas, but he brings the same type of game as a ball of hate.
Biyombo started 22 games earlier in the season for Valanciunas while he was out with a broken hand. The Raptors were 16-6 in those games and in one of those games he set what was then a personal high with 20 rebounds against Dallas. Then on March 17th he set up his own St. Patrick’s Day massacre as he broke a club record by hauling in 25 rebounds against the Pacers in Indiana. Biyombo also led the team with 133 blocked shots during the regular season.
Biyombo can more than do the job.
Getting Biyombo was part of the remake Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri did with this team in the summer. There was no depth at the center spot last year, but now there is help until the big Lithuanian can get back into the line-up if the Raptors are fortunate enough to advance and face Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Final.
“I was happy from day one, he’s stepped up when the time to compete comes,” Ujiri said at practice on Sunday about Biyombo’s play this season. “And when his chances come, it’s been really good for us, so it’s another chance but also Bebe (Lucus Nogueira) and Jason Thompson. The coaches I’m sure will figure all this out.”
Ujiri didn’t mention his name, but the seldom used James Johnson can fill in at the center spot as well.
“I’ve done it before. It’s nothing new, it’s nothing that I can’t do,” a confident Biyombo said on Sunday.
“I think I have shown enough. It’s just you get to play more and you get to do a lot more things. That’s about it. “I have shown that I can guard small. We switch a lot (defensively) when I’m on the floor, one through five. So there’s nothing that will surprise me, but as a team we have to find a way to keep them (the Heat) under 100 points. That has been the key for us to winning a playoff game.”
Keeping the Heat under a 100 points will be a key for the Raptors to win this series. The total score for the first three games is 287-285 with two overtime games, showing that no one team is running away with this series on the scoreboard.
So Bismack Biyombo come on down, you are the next man up.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.