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NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka

Did The Raptors Solve The 76ers In Game 4?

The second round playoff series between the Raptors and 76ers is a battle of contrasting strengths. Where Philadelphia has been a top rebounding team all season and is the undisputed leader on the glass in the playoffs, Toronto is known for their transition offense that runs on turnovers, misses and makes and neither team was going to back away from what has worked for them.

Thru the first three games Philly had owned the glass, collecting over 55 percent of the total rebounds, averaging four more offensive boards and dominating second chance points by a total of 25. Toronto had 20 more fastbreak points over those first three games, but they were down 2-1 in the series and head coach Nick Nurse wasn’t enjoying getting beaten up on the glass.

“The biggest thing was the rebounding,” Nurse admitted. “It just felt like we were getting pushed around a little bit in the last two games (games two and three) around the glass.

“We were looking were looking at some options of how to combat the problems we were having and that obviously entertained that Serge (Ibaka) and Marc (Gasol) would be playing together.”

Just how desperate was Nurse to fix this rebounding problem? Well, in the four games thus far the pairing of Gasol and Pascal Siakam playing 96 minutes together was only netting the Raptors 47.2 percent of the boards and perhaps even more concerning, the pairing of Ibaka and Siakam was leading the Raptors to only 44.3 percent of the available boards. Say what you want about the issues of rebounding with “small line-ups” on the floor. Toronto was getting pushed around with two bigs on the court.

“Serge is not really a center,” Kawhi Leonard observed. “He’s a power forward.

“We did a good job at working on it at practice the last two days (after game three) and those guys (Gasol and Ibaka) spaced out the floor well, got to their spots.”

Nurse played Ibaka and Gasol together for 23 minutes in game four and the combination helped the Raptors garner 54.5 percent of the rebounds during their time together. It helped Toronto stay even with the 76ers on the glass for the game, wiped out the 76ers advantage in second chance points and the Raptors still were a +7 in fast break points.

“Tonight we just had more athleticism and size and it just looked that way and looked like the rebounds were affected by that,” Nurse said after game four.

“I think it was a size advantage for us believe it or not.”

This has been a series of coaches going with their team’s strengths, making adjustments and counter adjustments.  Now it’s up to 76ers head coach Brett Brown to find the next move.

Nurse found a way to counter his adversary’s biggest advantage in game four. If the 76ers can’t out-rebound the Raptors and continue to give up points on the fast break, it’s hard to see Philly stealing another game in this series. But Brown isn’t one to coach scared.

 

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

 photo credit Larry Millson

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Marc Gasol

Three-Time All-Star Marc Gasol To The Raptors

The Eastern Conference’s second place Toronto Raptors have made a significant move by adding three-time All-Star center Marc Gasol from the Grizzlies.

The Raptors are sending center Jonas Valanciunas who has missed nearly two months with a thumb injury, guard Delon Wright who has underperformed expectations this season and three-point shooter C.J. Miles who has struggled shooting until very recently and had lost his spot in the rotation to Norman Powell.

The Raptors will now have four open roster spots and must fill three of them within the next couple of weeks (by league rule), so watch the buyout market for veteran three-point shooters.

Valanciunas was having a good season in limited minutes before he was injured, but there should be no question that Gasol is a significant upgrade averaging 33.7 minutes, 15.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 1.2 blocks and a career-high 4.7 assists – second among league centers. For head coach Nick Nurse, Gasol will give him the opportunity to play big lineups with both Gasol and Serge Ibaka on the court and that was something he really wasn’t comfortable doing with Valanciunas and Ibaka.

Gasol has a player option for $25.6 million for next season which he’ll probably take and is in line with Raptors contracts with Kyle Lowry and Ibaka.

Raptors fans should expect a re-invigorated Gasol who is coming from the second last place team in the West and has been playing for nothing this season. It’s been five years since Gasol got to the Western Conference Finals and his Grizzlies just barely snuck into the postseason in each of the past two years.

Gasol should give Toronto a counter to potential key postseason opponents like Celtics Al Horford, 76ers Joel Embiid and Bucks Brook Lopez.

 

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.