It starts with his name: Bismack Biyombo. The first sharp like the crack of a whip, the second ringing out as if creating its own echo. Bismack Biyombo. It's the perfect name to yell out in an arena driven to frenzy. And when Biyombo gets going -- as he did in Game 3 last night against the Cleveland Cavaliers -- there is nothing more satisfying.
Toronto loves players who work hard and do the so-called dirty work of professional sports. We're in the city that still celebrates Darcy Tucker, Pat Borders and Jerome Williams after all. Talented players are something to marvel at, sure, but give Toronto a relentless grinder and they will be appreciative in equal (and sometimes over-the-top) measure. Right now, no one on this city's teams grinds with the same relish as Biyombo.
"I'm playing for my teammates, honestly, and for us it's just that we're going to play hard no matter what, and we're going to play our game," said Biyombo after Game 3. With the Raptors looking at the possibility of a 3-0 series deficit, Biyombo backed up his words with a seven point, franchise-record 26 rebound and four block performance. It was precisely the kind of wonky line that only a player like Biyombo can achieve. It was also exactly the kind of game the listing Raptors, who looked largely lost and dispirited in two straight crushing losses in Cleveland, needed from him.
In both Games 1 and 2, the Cavaliers, led by LeBron James, were firmly in control of the series. They were able to get whatever they wanted on offense, and keep the Raptors disorganized and frantic with their defense. While DeMar DeRozan (who had a quiet 32 points last night) had been consistent throughout, the rest of the Raptors -- Kyle Lowry, in particular -- were dramatically out of sorts. It looked to be a short series. Until last night, and what we'll call the Bismack Game.
"It gives us the confidence. It gives us energy. It gets the crowd into it," said Lowry of Bismack's play. "Bis does a great job of just getting the crowd into it, and the crowd gets us into it. We feed off of that energy. Four blocks, 26 rebounds, there's no substitution for that." To look at Lowry's line of 20 points (on a rejuvenated 7-for-13 shooting, including 4-for-8 from three), six rebounds and three assists, is to see the benefits of that energy. With the Cavaliers pressing late and getting the lead down to five points, it was Lowry who tossed up that pray of an alley-oop. And it was Biyombo who brought it down, kicking off a mini 6-0 all-Bismack run that put the game away. Not even a shot to the groin in the dying seconds could slow Biyombo down.
"Just giddy up," said coach Dwane Casey when asked what he had to say to Biyombo pre-game (and inadvertently summarizing the entire Bismack experience). "You don't have to say anything to Bis. Bis is a self-starter. He understands what he does. He's a kid that just plays hard. He knows who he is." There's a perfect simplicity to that assessment. It's a clarity of purpose that the Raptors, who sometimes look like they're thinking too much, can really use at times. It came in handy last night as they ran away with the game.
There have been players like Biyombo before, in Toronto and elsewhere. Biyombo acknowledged his place on the continuum of great players, models for which he can shape his game. "I've learned a lot from Dennis Rodman, all the great players that played before me, Hakeem Olajuwon and all these great players." He even mentioned getting license from the great Dikembe Mutombo to use his finger wag. But before that, as the compliments came in, Biyombo made it clear about where he stood.
"It's great, and I appreciate it, but at the end of the day, I'm Bismack Biyombo."
Listen to the crack, hear the echo in the crowd.
It starts with his name.