Raptors’ Biy­ombo strong in place of Valan­ci­u­nas

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY LORI EWING

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.

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