Raptors’ Biyombo strong in place of Valanciunas
When Jonas Valanciunas bent his big body in pain Friday night in Los Angeles while cradling his broken left hand, it could have spelled disaster for the Toronto Raptors.
But two games into what could be a six-week absence for Toronto’s starting centre, the Raptors are faring well. Bismack Biyombo is a big reason why.
Biyombo started in place of the injured Valanciunas on Wednesday and filled in admirably, recording a double-double — 11 points and 12 rebounds — in Toronto’s 103-99 win over the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers.
“He set the tone for us defensively,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “Protecting the paint, talking, being physical, being a deterrent at the rim and that was big for us. That’s a good team. That team right there has got so many weapons.”
The Raptors signed the Congolese player to a US$6-million, two-year deal in the off-season after Charlotte cut him loose, and he instantly made his presence felt as the most vocal player in training camp.
“Vocalness. Athleticism. Understanding where to be. Timing, he has great timing,” Kyle Lowry said, when asked what Biyombo brings to the team. “And just being able to affect shots without fouling, and clean up the defensive rebounds.”
Biyombo is known for his rim protecting — Casey has said it’s “off the charts.” Critics have claimed he can do little else. But the six-foot-nine centre came up big on the offensive end Wednesday when Lowry fed him for back-to-back uncontested dunks in the dying minutes to put the game out of reach.
“Those last couple of buckets were big for us. We needed them,” Lowry said. “And a guy like Bis, he doesn’t really worry about scoring ...”
Biyombo arrived in Toronto looking for a fresh start after an inauspicious four years with Charlotte. After leaving his home in Labumbashi for Yemen at the age of 16, he was spotted at a youth tournament there and invited to play in Spain, where he spent the better part of three years.
Biyombo caught the eye of Raptors coach Masai Ujiri, among other NBA general managers, at the 2011 Nike Hoop Summit — a game that pits the best American high schoolers against a team of international players. Biyombo recorded the Summit’s first-ever triple-double, with 12 points, 11 boards and 10 blocks.
He was drafted seventh overall by Sacramento in 2012 and then traded to Charlotte. His first two seasons were solid, but his numbers trailed off over the last two campaigns.
The Raptors also acquired DeMarre Carroll in the offseason to shore up their defence. Carroll, who hounded LeBron James all night, said he and Biyombo have “similar mindsets.”
Casey gave his players Thursday off to celebrate the U.S. Thanksgiving. They will play the Wizards in Washington on Saturday, then return home to host the Phoenix Suns on Sunday.
Cleveland Cavaliers’ Lebron James, left, is blocked at the rim by Toronto Raptors’ Bismack Biyombo during Wednesday’s game in Toronto.