Jonas Valanciunas injury may put dent in Raptors' playoff hopes
Big man has been vital to Toronto's success so far
The Toronto Raptors received some crushing news on Sunday when it was determined that centre Jonas Valanciunas will not be available for the remainder of the series against the Miami Heat due to an ankle injury.
While the backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan has struggled through much of the playoffs to this point, Valanciunas has asserted himself as a force to be reckoned with in the paint.
The seven-footer caused all kinds of matchup problems for the Indiana Pacers in the first round, and was settling in quite nicely in the Eastern Conference semifinal before being forced out of the third quarter of Game 3 on Saturday with a sprained right ankle.
In 10 playoff games this season, Valanciunas was providing the Raptors with 15 points per game, 12.1 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and a tidy .550 field-goal percentage.
Specifically against the Heat, the 24-year-old upped his scoring and rebounding to 18.3 and 12.7, respectively.
Although the Raptors have had to show some patience with Valanciunas since he entered the league four seasons ago, the fifth pick overall in 2011 appears now more than ever to be a key piece for years to come.
In the meantime, the Raptors will have to charge forward without the big man's services.
Lowry to the rescue
Valanciunas had already dropped 16 points and hauled in 12 rebounds in just over 22 minutes before his exit on Saturday.
Lowry then picked a good time to find his scoring touch, pouring in 29 of his 33 points in the second half of Toronto's 95-91 win in Game 3.
Toronto will need a lot more of that if they hope to close out the series, which they currently lead 2-1 heading into Game 4 in Miami on Monday night (8 p.m. ET).
The Heat are dealing with some injury woes too as their starting centre Hassan Whiteside also left Game 3 with an injury and is now listed as day-to-day with a sprained right knee.
There are a lot of factors and scenarios that could play out for Toronto as far as what direction they go in with playing rotations and minutes.
But there is little doubt that backup centre Bismack Biyombo, who made 22 starts when Valanciunas was sidelined during the regular season, will play a bigger role.
It also goes without saying that DeRozan will need to break out of his shooting slump to give the Raptors a boost.
Have your say: Can the Raptors advance to the next round without Valanciunas?