Raptors’ lively man in the middle saves series – NBA.com

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Bismack Biyombo wagged his finger at the Cleveland Cavaliers.

And he got one back from at least one Cavalier, a figurative single-digit salute in honor of how miserable he had made their evening Saturday night at Air Canada Centre.

Near the end of the Toronto Raptors’ resilient and necessary 99-84 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, Biyombo batted a rebound to a teammate to cap a memorable night for both the Raptors and himself. Then he got batted back when Cavs forward Dahntay Jones hit him in, well, a nether region that had the high-revving Raptors center dropping to his knee, then going fetal on the floor as the final seconds ticked away.

Jones said later the hit was inadvertent, just accidental contact delivered down under when he tried to do something in garbage time — box out Biyombo — that no other Cleveland player had managed through the first 47 minutes and change.

Biyombo encouraged the honchos at the league office to be the judges of that when they go to the videotape for their standard review.

What they’ll see on pretty much every other play involving Toronto’s 6-foot-9 defensive dervish is a game-defining and series-slowing performance. Biyombo set a franchise record with 26 rebounds — not just a playoff record, a Raptors all-time high — and blocked four shots.

Not only did he channel the likes of Dikembe Mutombo, Dennis Rodman and Cleveland’s own Tristan Thompson, Biyombo swatted away any notions the Cavaliers, their fans or a bunch of experts around the league might have had that this would be done by Monday. Forget “fo’, fo’, fo’,” thanks to Biyombo’s “no, no, no!”

“He knows his role,” Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll said. “That’s the NBA. Everybody can’t be the Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry. You have to understand your role, your niche, and he understands it to a tee, and that’s a prime example of a true professional.”

Biyombo, 23, was reminiscent of several professionals Saturday, starting with Mutombo. Like the eight-time All-Star center who blocked 3,289 shots in 18 NBA seasons, Biyombo is a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He gives up five inches to his famous countryman and NBA ambassador, is less than half his age and is 2,713 regular-season swats behind. Yet he has adopted the finger-wag that Mutombo used to such great effect on those blocks (second all-time since the league began counting them in 1973) and in that recent GEICO insurance commercial.

Biyombo Wrecks the Boards

Bismack Biyombo records 26 rebounds and 4 blocks in the Raptors’ Game 3 win over Cleveland.

When did that start? “After I got the license from Mutombo,” Biyombo said. “He’s like my big brother, and I’ve had several conversations with him, especially defensively, how he was able to impact the game.” Though shorter, Biyombo has way more quick-twitch muscle going for him, getting higher off the ground than the former Georgetown star.

Then there’s Rodman, a comparison volunteered by Biyombo’s coach, Dwane Casey, when Casey wasn’t busy lobbying from the podium for a fairer shake from the officials. “He knows where the ball is coming off,” the Raptors coach said, of his guy’s Rodmanesque tendencies. “He’s an active player. He’s a guy who’s always moving, moving his feet… He understand angles.”

Thompson, of course, is the Cavs center whose timely performances in last year’s playoffs earned him a staggering five-year, $82 million contract in free agency over the summer, thanks to teammate LeBron James unofficially acting as the ultimate high-leverage agent and talking up the team’s need to re-sign him.

Biyombo will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and figures to get paid, too, especially with the flood of TV money to be thrown around. James didn’t even have to be wearing the same uniform as Biyombo Saturday to start negotiating on his behalf.

“That’s what he’s been at home in every playoff and every regular-season game,” the Cleveland star said of Biyombo’s dirty-work diligence. “We understand he feeds off the crowd, but he’s also a huge impact on the glass at home. He gives them a lot of energy, he gives them a lot of second-chance points. He had eight offensive rebounds. He cleaned up the glass on all of our misses in the first half. I think he had at one point 14 rebounds and no points — the guys stays in his lane.”

As sensitive as James can be to players trying to embarrass or show him up, he wasn’t bothered at all by Biyombo’s finger-wagging. No one brought up the Usain Bolt pose Biyombo lapses into occasionally after highlight plays.

“We don’t really have a reaction,” James said. “[When] he has a great block, we’re trying to get back on defense. We’re not watching him wave his finger. But he probably admires [Mutombo]. We all take something from somebody. If I shoot a fadeaway, I got it from MJ [Michael Jordan]. Throw a no-look pass, I get it from Magic [Johnson]. … We all admire somebody, so it’s no big deal.”

Raptors on Game 3 Win

Dwane Casey, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Bismack Biyombo talk about getting the win in Game 3 vs. the Cavaliers.

A medium deal was the flagrant-1 foul that Biyombo put on James deep into the fourth quarter, Toronto up 91-77. What looked to some to be merely a hard foul, once the refs reviewed it, was upgraded. James took plenty of umbrage, springing to his feet quickly as if ready to challenge Biyombo. The Cavs star said later such moments have him flashing back to when an AAU opponent “low-bridged” him, triggering James’ fall and broken wrist.

They also leave him pondering the high cost of retaliation. “I always think back to the Jay-Z phrase,” James said, “and a line he had: ‘If I shoot you, then I’m brainless. If you shoot me, you’re famous.’ Every time I feel like I want to react, I’ve got to keep my brain.”

Had Cleveland, after James made both free throws with 3:21 left, turned the extra possession that followed into two or three points, the mood at Air Canada Centre might have tensed some. But Kyrie Irving missed a 3-pointer, one of the Cleveland point guard’s 16 misses in 19 attempts overall. Kevin Love clanged at a 1-of-9 rate.

Together, they goosed Biyombo’s rebound total, gave the Cavaliers easy hope for Game 4 — those guys can’t possibly shoot that badly again, right? — but also served as a testament to the Raptors’ lively man in the middle, who has turned injured and absent starter Jonas Valanciunas (ankle sprain) into an afterthought.

“I’m not going to block every shot,” Biyombo said. “At least the idea for me is to change the shot, change as many shots as I can.”

Cleveland had scored 50 points in the paint in Game 1 and 56 more in Game 2. The Cavs got only 20 Saturday. They had shot 55.4 percent in Game 1 and 50 percent in Game 2. They missed 51 of their 79 attempts on this night, finishing at 35.4 percent. That’s the Cavaliers’ low this spring through 11 playoff games.

“He came in, he got every rebound,” Carroll said. “He didn’t care about scoring a point and that’s what we need for him to do for this team.”

Actually, right around the time the numbers crunchers were digging for precedents — most rebounds by a playoff performer who didn’t get a single field goal — Biyombo got busy with the ball. In rapid succession, he finished an alley-oop slam from Kyle Lowry, took a pass and scored when DeMar DeRozan had James laser-locked on him, and slammed again when DeRozan passed out of a double-team. Those six unanswered points pushed Toronto’s lead from eight to 14 points.

That last one was when he went Bolt Saturday. But he’s at his best when he’s going Mutombo.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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Raptors’ lively man in the middle saves series – NBA.com