Gasol/JV return | Bobbleheads | Scott McCulluough wins an award
Gasol finished high school in Memphis and led his school to a state championship.
He watched his brother establish himself as an NBA star and then watched as that relationship between the Grizzlies and Gasol soured somewhat.
Pau, it turned out, would play a role in ensuring Marc became a member of the Grizzlies as he was the marquee piece in the trade that brought Marc’s rights, owned by the Lakers, to Memphis.
A handful of years there as a teenager and then a near 11-year stint as a focal part of those Grindhouse-era Grizzlies has made Memphis far more than just a place he played at one point.
It was, and always will be, home.
“I still own my house there,” he said. “My parents and Pau still own the first house they bought out in Germantown. All of our memories are there. You don’t erase all that just because you move and have to work somewhere else.”
Asked about missing out on that opportunity to go back to Memphis this year and see all those people who mean so much to him, Gasol doesn’t sound very broken up about it.
He sounds very much like a man who likes to keep those emotional moments separate from his basketball.
“I don’t think it’s an easy game to play just because there are so many emotions, right?” he pointed out. “I’m somebody that really locks in to play and it’s not easy to say hello to all the ushers and all the people who work around the team and then try to execute the game plan and beat the other team. It’s not as simple as it seems. There are a lot of emotions. I’m very business-like when it comes to playing and I would not like all the (attention) before a game. I like to just go there and play the game, win, and then we can chit chat.”
It is no coincidence that the two NBA teams with which Marc Gasol is associated are known in large part for their selflessness, their success and the way they go about their business with little in the way of self-congratulations.
He is, as Raptors coach Nick Nurse said, a “high-level sportsman” and that’s high praise indeed.
“He’s just all about the right things, which is first and foremost winning,” Nurse said of the Raptors centre, who plays against the Grizzlies for the first time on Sunday afternoon on the NBA’s Florida campus.
“He wants to win and he wants to be seen as the guy who really knows how to play the game, plays it the right way … Great teammate, all those kinds of things.
“He’s a high-level sportsman, if you know what I mean.”
What he means is that Gasol embodies all that should be important to athletes. He is team first. He cares only about the end result. He comports himself as a professional with a well-grounded understanding of where sports exist in the greater world.
Gasol’s like an Everyman in basketball and life. And the Raptors truly appreciate it.
“That’s a big part of our chemistry, is being willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the team, and Mark’s a guy you never have to worry about complaining about where’s the ball, and how many shots he’s getting,” Fred VanVleet said Friday. “I mean, he’s probably on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of not wanting to shoot a whole lot, so I know that he’s helped me out.”
Today, Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry takes the spotlight.
Context: When it comes to drawing charges, nobody does it better than Kyle Lowry.
In Toronto’s loss to the Boston Celtics on Friday, Lowry drew his 34th charge of the season, extending his lead over LA Clippers centre Montrezl Harrell for the most in the league. With only a few games remaining before the playoffs begin, Lowry is well positioned to lead the league in charges drawn for the second time in three seasons.
Drawing charges isn’t something that usually gets talked about as a skill, but Lowry has proven to have incredible anticipation in those situations.
To get a better understanding of how he does it, let’s take a closer look at the charge Lowry drew against the Celtics.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) August 8, 2020
Gasol said facing Memphis would be emotional.
“I got there when I was 16 years old. It was my first time out of Spain,” said Gasol, who still owns his Memphis home. “I started high school there as a teenager and left as a father of two kids. … My ties to the city and my roots go pretty deep and my love for the people there, what they mean and the franchise, it’s forever.”
Gasol helped Memphis make the playoffs in seven consecutive seasons including the 2013 run to the Western Conference finals. He is the Grizzlies’ all-time leader for minutes played, field goals made, free throws made and attempted, rebounds, blocks and triple-doubles and is second in points — 49 behind Mike Conley.
The Raptors were supposed to have played back-to-back games against Memphis this season, going there March 28 and then playing host to the Grizzlies March 30. Those games, of course, were called off because of the season suspension caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Obviously it’s a little bittersweet that we couldn’t play in the city of Memphis, to get that love and feel that Iove from the fans,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. “But I’m sure he’ll be happy to see some familiar faces and a lot of the people that he spent a lot of time with over the years.”
Celtics’ ISO-heavy approach could counter Raptors’ swarming defence
One reason the Celtics might be a tough matchup for the Raptors: They have the personnel to isolate well in space.
Entering play Friday, the Celtics ranked a modest eighth in the league in isolation volume with 7.8 plays finished via isolation per-game, per Synergy. That modesty was stylistic rather than personnel-based — the Celtics rank third in the league in isolation efficiency at 0.97 points per-isolation possession, with Gordon Hayward (1.08),Walker (1.04) and Jayson Tatum (1.02) all grading in the 80th percentile or higher individually.
The Raptors can defend that way, to be sure. The league’s No. 2 defence is as stout one-on-one as it is when flying around switching and recovering. Only the Bucks defend isolations better than the Raptors, which has meant they get isolated very infrequently (5.1 percent of opponent possessions, about 20 percent less than average and second only to the Bucks). OG Anunoby is a particularly strong isolation defender, while Terence Davis II is the only rotation regular who grades poorly (and that’s on an 18-possession sample).
The Raptors are fine letting opponents isolate, clearly. They’re just not willing to play those situations one-on-one, often heavily shading a ball-handler toward their weak hand and sitting a defender in the pocket to disrupt driving or passing lanes. No team forces anywhere close to the number of isolation turnovers the Raptors do — 16.3 percent of isolations, almost double the league average and nearly 40 percent more than No. 2-ranked Chicago — a trade-off they accept a higher foul rate for in order to not just kick-start their offence in transition but to make teams second-guess their isolation habits altogether. Even accounting for successful passes out of those situations, the Raptors are second only to the Clippers (Milwaukee slides to fourth).
“I want to support my guys. The guys have been my family for multiple years, we went through a lot of stuff together so it’s important for me to be here and support them,” Valanciunas told Sportsnet’s Eric Smith on the broadcast of that contest on April 13 last year.
A kind gesture and one that spoke of the kind of bond Valanciunas had with the Raptors organization, but on Sunday, Valanciunas will have to put those warm feelings of nostalgia to the side.
With the playoffs included, Valanciunas has played 599 NBA games and his 600th will mark the first time he ever plays against the Raptors.
A shame that it’ll be taking place in the Orlando bubble instead of the home-and-home series as it was originally intended at the end of March as emotions surely would’ve been running high, especially in Valanciunas’ return to Toronto.
Not to mention, if that game in Toronto had been able to play, Raptors fans likely would’ve been in for a surprise upon their first look at Valanciunas in a little while.
In the midst of, perhaps, his best season as a pro, Valanciunas is averaging 15 points and 11.2 rebounds per game and is shooting a career-best 58.6 per cent from the field. More importantly, Valanciunas’s defence while out in space and when put in the pick-and-roll – his old Achilles heel – has apparently become one of his greatest strengths.
And the 35-year-old Spaniard is just fine with that.
“I don’t think it’s an easy game to play, just because so many emotions, right?” Gasol said during a videoconference Saturday.
“It’s not easy to say hello to all the ushers, people who work around the team and staff members, and then try to execute the game plan and beat the other team, it’s not as simple as it seems.”
The Raptors were originally scheduled to visit Memphis on March 28 and then host the Grizzlies on March 30, but the NBA was forced to suspend its season two weeks before that home-and-home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The league is finishing off its season in isolation at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla., meaning no fan buzz during the games.
Toronto guard Fred VanVleet felt Sunday’s game would be bittersweet for Gasol, because he would finally get to face a team that’s still a big part of him but will miss out on the fan adulation.
Gasol, however, would prefer to play without distractions.
“It’s a lot of emotions, and I’m very businesslike when it comes to playing, and I would not like all the attention before the game,” he said. “I like to just got there, play the game, win and then we can chit-chat.”
Gasol said he still considers Memphis to be home. He moved to the Memphis suburb of Germantown, Tenn., with his family as a teenager in 2001 after his older brother Pau joined the Grizzlies.
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