NBA scores 2017: The East is making LeBron James’ path to the Finals tougher than ever
The Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t play on Friday, and they weren’t traveling. NBA players have to savor these nights, the rare chances to relax at home. LeBron James might have even had time to turn on Friday night’s marquee game between the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors. If he did, you have to wonder what he thought.
In that clash, the Raptors — even missing Kyle Lowry, who might miss a little time with a sore wrist — won 107-97 against Boston, which currently holds the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. It was a triumphant debut for Toronto’s two new acquisitions at the trade deadline, with Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker both proving instrumental in a game that matters for the East standings.
Ibaka solidifies the power forward position, which Toronto had been filling by committee so far this season. (No offense, Pascal Siakam, who is totally a real player and not a computer generated name!) While his defense has slipped from where it once was, Ibaka’s scoring is the most consistent it has ever been. The 15 points on 7-of-12 points he chipped in on Friday is a good measure for what he can provide, and the spacing of a lineup that features him and Patrick Patterson is something Toronto hasn’t really ever seen.
That type of versatility is what allowed Toronto to only play Jonas Valanciunas 18 minutes on Friday, while backup center Lucas Nogueira only logged 11. True centers against Boston’s five-out shooting didn’t make sense — Valanciunas was only plus-4 and Nogueira minus-11 — so moving Ibaka there in a small ball look allowed the Raptors to successfully match their opponent.
The other new addition, P.J. Tucker, was just as important. He played 29 minutes, scoring nine points, grabbing 10 rebounds and must have hit the ground a dozen times trying to make hustle plays. Toronto switched frequently in the fourth quarter, helped by Tucker’s defensive versatility, and that’s what helped the Raptors to stay in front of Isaiah Thomas. The NBA’s leading fourth quarter scorer scored only three points in the frame.
This is as versatile and modern as we’ve seen Toronto since they…