The Toronto Raptors made a huge adjustment against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday, playing a two-big lineup of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.
Facing a team with as much height as Philadelphia brags can be challenging, yet the Raptors actually managed an unexpected size advantage with such a large frontcourt. It helped them earn a 101-96 victory to make the series 2-2 heading back to Toronto.
“We didn’t try to make it look pretty,” Ibaka explained to HopopsHype after the game. “We just tried to grind, man. We are going to watch the film and figure it out. Tonight was about just grinding and giving everything we had.”
The Raptors had just a small sample size to pull from for a two big lineup coming into the series against the Sixers. The duo had outscored opponents by 10.5 points per 100 possessions, per NBAWowy, but had appeared at the same time for approximately 35 minutes of action since acquiring Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies.
During the fourth game of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, however, the bigs were on the court together for around 24 minutes. They had a dominant two-man net rating (11.3) and played a significant role in helping the squad even the series against Philadelphia – while containing Joel Embiid.
“We were figuring out some things on the fly,” Nurse told reporters. “We were running some stuff tonight that we had never run before with Marc and Serge, trying to figure out how to best use some of that stuff.”
Perhaps most surprising was their lineup that included both Gasol and Ibaka with Pascal Siakam (6-foot-9) at the three and Kawhi Leonard (6-foot-7) at the two.
“It felt good,” Siakam explained. “We only did it a little bit during the regular season. But for me, since I can guard against one to four or five, it does not really matter when I’m out there.”
After getting outrebounded by 10 boards during their most recent loss, they bounced back by matching the 76ers in rebounds on Sunday. Ibaka was able to record nine boards, which was his highest mark of the postseason thus far.
Nurse said that the team needed “some punch” on the court, which is how he landed on what he described as some funkier lineups. Once he saw the very real impact Ibaka made, however, the Toronto coach knew it would be tough to justify pulling him out of the game.
“It just felt like we were getting pushed around a little bit in the last two games around the glass,” added Nurse. “A lot of times that would happen with our really small lineup. Tonight we just had more athleticism and size.”
That helped them a ton on the defensive side of the floor and Gasol said the mentality was tougher when he was paired with Ibaka. But it allowed some legitimate upside when on offense as well.
Typically, coaches are reluctant to use two big lineups very often because it can be tough to space the floor. Nurse describes these two players as “safety valves” from beyond the arc. Gasol ended up finding himself uncontested and made two three-pointers on Sunday.
“I’ve played the four a lot, especially offensively,” the three-time All-Star told HoopsHype. “I’m able to make that read on whoever is guarding me.”
When asked how much it helps to know that both Gasol and Ibaka are more than capable of connecting on attempts, the Toronto coach spoke about how the two draw additional help from defenders when they penetrating near the basket. This will leave the other open on the perimeter and he wants his team to shoot when they are open.
“We’ll probably look at it again just because it helped us on the rebounding,” said Nurse. “It does help that they can both make [shots from long range] and it was nice to see Marc take them and make a couple and keep taking them. Serge, hopefully when we get back on our own floor, will get dialed in a little bit. He had a couple three’s that he took. He can make those, too.”