Valanciunas has been out since getting injured in Game 3 of Toronto’s second-round series with the Miami Heat, and general manager Masai Ujiri expressed uncertainty that his 7-footer would be able to return at all in the third round.
“I saw [Jonas] walking, so that was positive. He wasn’t sitting,” Ujiri said Wednesday. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to have him back. You wish a guy like that could be playing, because I feel that’s a difference -- he’d be the best big guy in the game by far to me, so that would’ve helped us. But we don’t have that and that’s the nature of the NBA. You move on.”
Valanciunas’ absence is significant as he was averaging 15 points and 12.1 rebounds on 55-percent shooting during the playoffs. And it hasn’t just affected the starting lineup; it’s also affected the rotation as a whole.
The Raptors thrived during the regular season at the start of the second quarter, when Kyle Lowry would combine with reserves Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo. In 297 minutes together during the regular season, that lineup outscored its opposition by 102 points.
But it has been hard for Toronto coach Dwane Casey to put that combination together in the postseason because Biyombo and Patterson are in the starting lineup now because of Valanciunas’ ailment and veteran Luis Scola’s ineffectiveness.
In Cleveland’s 115-84 drubbing of Toronto in Game 1, a 15-0 Cavaliers run bridging the end of the first and second quarters turned the contest into a blowout. Casey said he’ll try to juggle his rotation better to avoid that from happening, but it’s going to be tough.
Joseph has especially struggled lately, and put the blame on himself for the second unit’s ineffectiveness. He has made one of his last 14 shots from the field.
“[Cory’s] not playing instinctively, the way he normally plays. He’s thinking way too much. He just needs to go out and play,” Casey said. “He’s on target to be an excellent player, and we believe in Cory.”
The toughest part for the underdog Raptors is not having their full complement of players. They are already facing a giant, but they certainly would have a better chance with Valanciunas in there.