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NBA Playoffs 2017: Should the Raptors start Ibaka at centre?

Toronto is having success with their small lineup in this series. Is it time to start games that way?

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Basketball is a game of runs, and through two games, this Milwaukee-Toronto series is no different. Painful, anxiety-inducing, sweat-it-out runs. In Game 2, the Raptors managed to rip off four significant runs, which was one too many for the Bucks to claw back from.

Kyle Lowry’s jumper was the clincher, and his play was the headline story of the Raptors’ 106-100 win. The subhead, though, was Serge Ibaka. Coming in with a bum ankle, Ibaka played 36 minutes and had 16 points, seven rebounds, and six assists — all of the helpers coming in the second half.

Ibaka’s minutes breakdown in the second half of Game 2, though, shows the two schools of thought for Dwane Casey going forward. Would the Raptors be better off starting their small lineup with Ibaka and the five, bringing Jonas Valanciunas off the bench? Or are the starters proficient enough as is?

To help us out, Popcorn Machine’s game flow chart shows the minutes breakdown from Game 2, along with how each player impacted their team’s runs.

Don’t Change It!

Starting lineup stasis, as we’ve talked about before, is not a strong suit of the Raptors’ playoff history. With that in mind, Game 2 made an argument for keeping things as is. The Raptors’ best run of the game, an 18-2 stretch early in the third, came amidst an eight-minute stretch with the starters on the floor. Former wasteman DeMarre Carroll was huge here, making all three of his shots, and Valanciunas went 3-of-4 with three boards, matched up in equal parts with Thon Maker and Greg Monroe.

However, the stretch only ended with the Raptors being +3, as the Bucks came back with a 15-4 run of their own to run the Raptors’ starters off. From the 4:09 mark in the third, Valanciunas was benched, and Ibaka played at centre for all but two short minutes.

Change It!

The Raptors essentially won this game with an 11-0 run to start the fourth, with the lineup that could be the lineup: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, P.J. Tucker, Patrick Patterson, and Ibaka. Tucker and Patterson, incredibly, didn’t rest from 4:09 in the third until the end of the game.

This lineup can simply cause a lot more havoc on the defensive end. Lowry and Joseph are able help defenders, and were both forcing cough-ups by getting into lanes and streaking around the court. Tucker and Patterson both took turns guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo, and both have shown more success than Carroll with that job. Finally, Ibaka made clutch shots, and showed prowess as a rim protector.

While it would be folly to suggest Joseph should start in place of DeMar DeRozan, swapping the two resulted in the Raptors’ closer lineup, which went +3 amidst a 6-0 clinching run.

Which brings us to the question at hand. Are the Raptors better off starting games with a smaller lineup against this Bucks team? Is Valanciunas better served playing strictly against Monroe? Or is Toronto fine with their Jekyll and Mr. Hyde approach, a team that starts big and can adapt as the game goes on?

These are decisions too big for me. Give us your vote and let’s discuss in the comments.


Which starting frontcourt should the Raptors favour?

This poll is closed

  • 42%
    Small! Ibaka-Patterson
    (153 votes)
  • 57%
    Big! Valanciunas-Ibaka
    (203 votes)
356 votes total Vote Now