Less than 72 hours after being charged with impaired driving, Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas silenced those who felt that he was beginning to lose focus and becoming overwhelmed with the team’s recent run of success with a 26-point, 12-rebound performance against the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night.
Despite facing a dismal opponent, Wednesday’s affair at Toronto’s Air Canada Center was a must-win for the Raptors, who began the day tied for third place in the Eastern Conference with the Chicago Bulls, and held a two-game lead on the Brooklyn Nets for first place in the Atlantic Division.
Without forward Amir Johnson, who was sidelined with a sore ankle for the third straight game, the young Lithuanian took the lead on the glass while shooting 10-of-14 from the floor and hitting six of eight from the charity stripe in 37 minutes of playing time.
Aside from finishing with his largest offensive outburst of the season and as Toronto’s leading rebounder, Valanciunas also committed just one turnover, blocked two shots, and trailed only Kyle Lowry, who netted a game-high 29 points in the victory.
While his impressive showing against Philadelphia on Wednesday may have satisfied the many casual observers who so willingly piled on the skepticism after Monday’s mishap, loyal citizens of Raptor Nation know all about Valanciunas and the progress that he’s been making since the beginning of the season.
During the month of March when the Raptors were quickly approaching their first playoff appearance in six years and in the middle of a heated race to reach the postseason, Valanciunas was huge for Toronto with averages of 12.2 PPG and 8.5 RPG in 29.6 MPG.
Along with the offensive progression Terrence Ross, the young center’s presence in the low-post has been one of the many pleasant surprises of 2013-14, and basketball fans throughout the city of Toronto know that without him, things could be very different for this team right now. Beginning with the Raptors’ 10-point victory on March 23 when Valanciunas dropped 13 points and 13 rebounds, the former first-round draft pick has registered at least 10 points in nine of his last 10 contests, and has five double-doubles over that same stretch.
Hopefully, the naysayers have been reassured enough to move on from relentlessly discussing the regrettable incident, because if Wednesday’s performance said anything, it’s that Valanciunas has already done so and is completely focused on Toronto’s upcoming playoff run.