Biyombo rises to challenge to level series with Cavs

RAPTORS BITE BACK: Down 2-0 in their Eastern Finals series with Cleveland, few gave them any chances. But Biyombo (in white) has helped stage a strong comeback with his rebounding and defence.


    May 25, 2016

    Biyombo rises to challenge to level series with Cavs


    CONGOLESE centre Bismack Biyombo has gone from bit-part player to Raptors linchpin in the space of two weeks and his emergence has given Toronto a spark in their Eastern Conference final series against Cleveland.

    He grabbed 14 rebounds and had three blocks in Toronto's 105-99 home win over the Cavaliers on Monday, which tied the best-of-seven series at 2-2.

    It was a gritty encore performance to his franchise playoff-record 26 rebounds and four blocks in a Game Three triumph, and provided further evidence that the 23-year-old has found new life in Toronto.

    Biyombo, who moved into the starting line-up when Jonas Valanciunas sprained his right ankle on May 7, has energised the Raptors with his rebounding and defence.

    "Man, (he means) everything now," Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry told reporters. "He's protected the paint, he's guarding LeBron (James) on the wing, he's doing everything we need.

    "He's been extremely effective and we're loving everything he does for us."

    Many pundits predicted a quick end to the Raptors' post-season when Valanciunas went down against Miami in the East semi-finals. But Biyombo has stepped up, his impact on the team highlighted by the fact that Valanciunas was activated on Monday but saw no court time.

    Toronto coach Dwane Casey said the time until Game Five would allow Valanciunas to recover further and let the Raptors work him back into the mix.

    Biyombo now figures prominently in that mix.

    "His spirit, his toughness (have been key for us)," Casey said. "He's such a great offensive rebounder that (Cleveland) is committing at least two players to box him out.

    "It's creating alleys for us."

    Biyombo, who began his professional career in Spain before being drafted into the NBA in 2011, spent four unremarkable seasons with the Charlotte Hornets before Toronto signed him as a free agent this past off-season.

    He averaged 22 minutes per game for the Raptors during the regular season but the playoffs have brought opportunity.

    Biyombo has taken to wagging his finger after he blocks a shot.

    That was the signature move of his Hall of Fame countryman Dikembe Mutombo who, he said, had given him permission to use the gesture.