Toronto Raptors: Jonas Valanciunas fires warning ahead of playoffs

TORONTO, ON - MAY 05: Jonas Valanciunas
TORONTO, ON - MAY 05: Jonas Valanciunas /

Jonas Valanciunas warmed up for the postseason, by leading the way in the Toronto Raptors’ win on Monday night at Little Caesars Arena.

The Toronto Raptors‘ dream campaign continued Monday night, as they beat the Detroit Pistons 108-98. They have already secured the number one seed in the East and are now one victory away from a 60-win season.

In reality, whether or not the Raptors reach that mark in Wednesday’s final regular season is irrelevant. What matters more, is that they are back on track and heading to the playoffs in good form, with a four-game winning streak.

The latest win was marked by an impressive comeback. Down by as many as 17 points, the team rallied to secure a hard-fought victory.

And leading the way was Jonas Valanciunas, who finished the night with game highs of 25 points and nine boards. The scoring was particularly notable, as it marked his third-highest total of the season.

Coach Dwane Casey was pleased with the effort from Valanciunas, who did not play the night before against the Orlando Magic. As reported by the Toronto Sun‘s Frank Zicarelli, Casey said:

"“Jonas had a bounce in his step. Really happy for him in how he came in.”"

Thomas Hall wrote on Sunday about how Valanciunas is vital to the Raptors’ chances of success in the playoffs. And he’s not wrong.

Heading into the 2017/18 campaign, critics wondered if it was time for the affable big man to move on. While no one doubted his talent, it just seemed like Casey was unsure of how to utilize him, or consistently get the best out of him.

Well, we can now safely say this is no longer an issue. The result has been the best regular season of Valanciunas’ NBA career, despite averaging his fewest minute since entering the league.

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This is perhaps best evidenced by the 25-year-old’s statistics per 36 minutes. Using this barometer to highlight his efficiency, he has career-bests in points, rebounds and assists, with one game remaining.

There are understandably still concerns about the ability of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to replicate their regular season success in the playoffs. This is based off previous years, when the All-Star duo have been up and down once the second season begins.

This is why Valanciunas is so important to the cause. And in fairness, he has already proved he is capable of stepping up, when DeRozan and/or Lowry are misfiring.

Think back to the Lithuanian’s first ever playoff game, against the Nets in 2013/14. He showed his ability to rise to the occasion right away, with 17 points and 18 boards in Game 1.

In terms of career averages, Valanciunas’ scoring and rebounding both improve slightly once the playoffs begin. For what it’s worth, he has 11 double-doubles in 33 postseason games.

Now we’ll admit performing well against a poor and under-strength Detroit Piston on a Monday night may not seem particularly impressive. However, the 2011 fifth overall draft pick has been playing like this all season.

In that respect, Monday night showed Valanciunas is ready and primed for the playoffs. And the rest of the NBA had better watch out.

Next: Raptors cement record-breaking season

Are you feeling excited or nervous ahead of the playoffs? How convinced are you that the Toronto Raptors can make it to their first ever NBA Finals? And how influential do you expect Valanciunas to be? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.