Ibaka ben­e­fit­ting from play­ing full sea­son with Rap­tors

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY LORI EWING

Serge Ibaka had barely played along­side Kyle Lowry when the Toronto Rap­tors opened the play­offs last sea­son.

The big man was ac­quired at the trade dead­line, and played the fi­nal 23 games of the reg­u­lar sea­son for Toronto. But Lowry was out with a hand in­jury and didn’t re­join the team un­til four games be­fore the play­offs tipped off.

The Rap­tors had en­vi­sioned Ibaka help­ing them past LeBron James and the Cava­liers, but with lit­tle time to jell, it just didn’t hap­pen.

“It was more dif­fi­cult than we thought es­pe­cially when pres­sure hit,” coach Dwane Casey said. “When you don’t know the nu­ances or know each other well, it’s more dif­fi­cult in those sit­u­a­tions. We had to sim­plify some things last year just be­cause of P.J. (Tucker) and Serge com­ing in . . . I prob­a­bly didn’t do a good job of in­te­grat­ing them in quick enough.”

Ibaka, ac­quired for his de­fen­sive tough­ness and solid shoot­ing, av­er­aged 14.3 points and 6.5 re­bounds in Toronto’s 10 play­off games, but the Rap­tors were swept in the sec­ond round by Cleve­land.

This sea­son is a “dif­fer­ent story,” Casey said. Ibaka had the ben­e­fit of train­ing camp and a full sea­son with the Rap­tors, and on Satur­day, he had a team-high 23 points and 12 re­bounds in Toronto’s Game 1 vic­tory over Wash­ing­ton.

“Last year, I didn’t re­ally have time to work with the team, with the guys, but now we know each other,” Ibaka said. “Kyle, he knows where I like to go. DeMar (DeRozan), he knows what I like to do. I know what Kyle and DeMar like to do now. When I play with (Jonas Valan­ci­u­nas) in the paint, we un­der­stand each other more now. It feels more nor­mal now.”

Ibaka post-game press con­fer­ence Satur­day was al­most as im­pres­sive as his game. The Con­golese player an­swered ques­tions in English, French and Span­ish with­out miss­ing a beat.

When asked Mon­day if Ibaka is a de­cent talker on defence, Casey replied: “In what lan­guage?”

“He sees things. He’s talk­ing. He’s out there on the court giv­ing guys ad­vice. He’s un­be­liev­able from that stand­point,” Casey added.

The coach hopes to cap­i­tal­ize on Ibaka’s play­off ex­pe­ri­ence. He’s played in 100 post-sea­son games, 89 of them with Ok­la­homa City.

“That right there. . . just the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing around a guy like (Rus­sell) West­brook and (James) Har­den and all those guys, (Kevin) Du­rant, spe­cial sit­u­a­tions, you can’t put a dol­lar value on that. That’s in­valu­able,” Casey said. “And you cant give it to any­body. You gotta go through that. “He’s been through the fire.” Casey had the 6-10 Ibaka and seven-footer Lucas Nogueira on the floor to­gether when the Rap­tors pulled away from the Wizards in the fourth quar­ter. The duo com­bined for a for­mi­da­ble front-court wall.

“Yes, big time,” Ibaka said. “(Nogueira) is so long. He reaches, ev­ery time you go into the paint and you see Lucas, he makes you think twice.”

The Rap­tors 114-106 win over Wash­ing­ton on Satur­day marked the first time the team had won a play­off opener since 2001.

But Lowry and the Rap­tors are ex­pect­ing a fierce fight from the Wizards in Game 2 on Tues­day night.

Ibaka

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