Ibaka shines off the bench as Raptors advance to Eastern Conference Finals


TORONTO — Serge Ibaka left Philadelphia after the Raptors’ Game 6 loss on Thursday determined to play better.

He felt like he redeemed himself on Sunday night.

Ibaka scored 17 points off the bench and added eight rebounds in Toronto’s Eastern Conference semifinal-clinching 92-90 victory over the 76ers. His point total trailed only superstar Kawhi Leonard’s 41 for most on the team.

“I wanted it so bad. I wanted it so much,” Ibaka said following the win. “After Game 6 and we lost, I came back and all that was on my mind was ‘I have to make my shots, I have to make those open shots for us to be successful.’

“I already know Kawhi’s going to be Kawhi, always gonna play D, but my job, I have to make those shots and grab a couple rebounds.”

Ibaka had just nine points and three rebounds in Toronto’s Game 6 loss and was 0 for 3 on three-point attempts.

His Sunday stat line was a marked improvement — he went 3 for 5 from three-point range on a night the entire Raptors team shot just 7 for 30 from beyond the arc — and he helped out on defence, too.

“Defence was the key, man,” Ibaka said. “Everybody says defence wins championships. I think tonight we did a great job on defence and even when they had to score some baskets we had to make sure they had to work for every basket.”

Ibaka’s 17 points were the most he has scored in a playoff game this season. He had two 13-point games — both in the first round against Orlando — and 12 points in Toronto’s Game-4 win against the Sixers last week.

Ibaka played 74 games in the regular season, starting 51 of them, and averaged 15 points per game.

The 10-year NBA veteran shuffled around from the starting five to the bench after Toronto acquired big man Marc Gasol at the trade deadline in February. Coach Nick Nurse, sensing the need to switch things up after Philadelphia pulled ahead 2-1 in the series last week, decided to play Ibaka and Gasol together for chunks of the remaining games.

Danny Green said that change was huge in helping Toronto seal the victory.

“A lot of times we were reluctant to play him and Marc early in the series together but it was a great coaching adjustment to put them together,” said Green. “He was on the glass, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, making things difficult.

“And hitting threes, he kinda looked like me in the corner one time.”

Nurse was impressed with Ibaka’s performance.

“He was obviously really big out there,” he said. “He had a couple of offensive put-backs, he was rim protecting … and he grabbed a few rebounds. And he was confident on offence, I thought. There was a stretch there where he was maybe the second most confident guy out there behind Kawhi.

“It would get kicked out to him and he was just pulling it or he was flying inside, getting a dump off and he was finding a way to get it in. It was big.”

Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press