TORONTO â€” Dropped out of the starting lineup for the second game in a row, Jonas Valanciunas still managed to create waves off the Raptors bench Monday night.
The Toronto centre took umbrage at the Milwaukee bigs in the third quarter, sent them flying and then flexed his muscles to pump up an adoring Air Canada Centre sellout crowd of 20,251.
Six other Raptors scored in doubles figures in a statement 118-93 Game 5 win. But Valanciunas’ muscle helped set the tone as he fronted up on a night that moved the Raptors one win away from dispatching the Bucks in their first-round playoff series.
It was a game in which Milwaukee found itself hanging onto the edge of the precipice, never managing to pull itself back despite repeated efforts.
With Toronto leading 77-63 with just over four minutes remaining in the third quarter, Valanciunas blocked a Greg Monroe shot. The six-foot-11 Monroe grabbed the Toronto seven-footer and, tangled up in a 530-pound ball of big men, ended up going over Valanciunas’ back and tumbling to the floor.
Valanciunas romped back up the court and was fouled cutting to the basket by six-foot-eight Khris Middleton. A clearly irritated Monroe pushed Middleton out of the way and then shoved Valanciunas, who looked ready to rumble.
That led to a scrum under the basket with Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll trying to act as peacemaker before coach Dwane Casey led Valanciunas back to the bench. The Lithuanian flexed his muscles and grimaced along the way.
When the dust settled, Middleton got a personal foul and Valanciunas and Monroe each got technicals.
With the crowd engaged, the Raptors pulled ahead and led 90-73 going into the final quarter.
Valanciunas’ personal ledger to start the final frame read rebound, rebound, lay-up, free throw, dunk, rebound. And Toronto was up 102-85, heading towards victory.
After the game Valanciunas looked more like he had walked off the set of “The Paper Chase” than a rough-and-tumble physical NBA playoff game. He looked positively professorial in a grey checked suit with a maroon-ish bow tie and what looked like dress bowling shoes the size of pontoons.
He had little interest in dissecting the play that got the crowd going.
“They were pushing each other, I don’t know,” Valanciunas said dryly of Middleton and Monroe.
“I’m an emotional player,” he added. “The fans get me going. That was a good moment for me, for fans and for others.”
But his teammates appreciated Valanciunas fronting up.
“It’s good playoff basketball,” said forward P.J. Tucker, no stranger to being physical. “Guys playing hard for the team, fighting. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”
It got the crowd going, he was reminded.
“For sure. It worked for us,” said Tucker.
Said Carroll: “That’s what we need from our big (man), from everybody.”
Valanciunas finished with eight points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes 24 seconds playing time. Norman Powell, who took over his starting role as the Raptors went small again, finished with a team-high 25 points.
Valanciunas said the Raptors won as a team Monday.
“The most important thing is a win. Doesn’t matter how many points you score, how many rebounds you grab. What matters is the win. We got it so I’m feeling great today.”
Casey also liked what he saw from Valanciunas.
“I thought Jonas came in tonight and really really played well,” he said. “Just because Norm is starting in front of him, doesn’t mean he’s not a very very important part of our team.”
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press