With his team-mates having another tough shooting night, Jonas Valanciunas took charge of his battle with Hassan Whiteside to power the Toronto Raptors to a series-tying 96-92 overtime win over the Miami Heat.
Valanciunas scored 15 points and pulled down 12 rebounds in game two, including two crucial putbacks and a smooth jump shot down the stretch.
Though Whiteside finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds for Miami, DeMar DeRozan felt Valanciunas won that individual match-up.
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“You can honestly see who is the dominant big out there when it comes to rebounding, scoring,” DeRozan said. “JV is doing a lot for us. We need him to continue to do that.
“And he did it with us not really running any plays for him. He was just being hungry and going after the ball. It was him getting great position, getting his hands on the ball and he came through big. He’s definitely the reason we won this game.”
Kyle Lowry, who shot 7-for-22 but made a couple of crucial shots in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, agreed. “He just went and did it,” explained. “That’s the growth of him. When he did get plays called for him, he made some great plays.”
Valanciunas preferred to share the spotlight with his team-mates, pointing to Lowry’s more confident shot-making and the energy that all of the Raptors brought.
The Lithuanian big man had only taken three shots entering the fourth quarter on Thursday, but stopped short of suggesting his late heroics meant he needed more touches.
“You’ve got to just read the game,” he said. “You can’t be taking all the shots. One day you have three shots, then all of a sudden the ball just falls in your hands. You’ve got to keep playing. We’re playing a team sport, not an individual sport.
“I enjoy playing basketball and I enjoy winning. I enjoy winning small battles, scoring, getting those rebounds. I was going to the offensive glass every time. Sometimes the ball bounces your way, sometimes it bounces his way. You cannot control those things – you’ve just got to go hard and try to get it."
Dwyane Wade, whose clutch three-pointer helped the Heat send the game to overtime, called for his team to match Valanciunas’ physicality as the series heads to Miami for games three and four.
“He was huge,” Wade said. “Whenever he has been on the floor for them, he has been very good. He’s a load. He’s a very physical guy. We’ve got to be able to do a better job on him in rebounding the ball and we’ve got to try to move him a little bit.
“When they get offensive rebounds, they’re a tough team to beat. We’ve got to a better job of coming to help when he has our bigs boxed in down there.”