As the dust settles from the Toronto Raptors' first championship, we're rolling out our Raptors Report Cards on each key member of the team from this past season. Before turning the page into the 2019-20 season as free agency begins, we'll take a closer look back at how everyone performed in 2018-19.
It's the hashtag often accompanying many of the social media posts of Serge Ibaka, the Raptors stylish big man who makes sure his fashion comes with class.
The mantra is representative of his second full season in Toronto as well.
Throughout the year, Ibaka did whatever was asked of him in both a starting and reserve role. Prior to the trade deadline move that sent centre Jonas Valanciunas to Memphis for centre Marc Gasol, Ibaka and Valanciunas alternated roles based on matchups. Serge would start 19 of the first 28 games of the season before Valanciunas went down with a thumb injury in early Dec.
REPORT CARDS: Leonard | Siakam | Nurse
Bringing in head coach Nick Nurse this season seemed to be all Ibaka needed to once again maximize his play. In roughly the same amount of playing time (~27.0 mpg), Ibaka increased his scoring average from the previous season by over two points (12.6 ppg to 15.0 ppg), became a more effective rebounder (6.3 rpg to 8.1 rpg) and recorded 22 double-doubles in 2018-19 after recording just eight in 2017-18.
Among the double-double performances were his career-high 34-point (on 15-17 shooting), 10-rebound performance in a dominant road win over the Lakers and a 20-point, 12-rebound game in a blowout regular season win at Oracle Arena.
Ibaka relied much less on his outside shot, but still proved to be a capable shooter from the mid-range and the perimeter, as shown by his midseason game-winner over the Wizards.
The #Raptors knock off the #Wizards in double overtime.- Sporting News Canada (@sportingnewsca) January 13, 2019
Here's Serge Ibaka's 3-pointer that gave them the win:pic.twitter.com/xsfJsRvLNQ
Once the Raptors acquired Gasol in Feb, Ibaka transitioned into becoming a full-time reserve, coming off the bench in 13 of the team's final 17 games. As the playoffs approached, Ibaka maintained that his role was unimportant as long as he can contribute to winning.
That he did.
Throughout the regular season, Ibaka's play was often a barometer of the Raptors' success, it helps that he had one of the best seasons in his 10-year career. Toronto was 22-9 when Ibaka scored 16 or more points and 23-9 when the 29-year-old grabbed nine or more rebounds.
This trend continued in the postseason.
As Ibaka served as the muscle for the Raptors reserves in each of their 24 postseason games, the team was 9-1 when he scored 10 or more points. At a crucial juncture when the second unit was almost unplayable, Ibaka brought consistency and in many ways, sparked the group's resurgence.
In the Conference Semifinals. Nick Nurse's adjustment of playing Ibaka alongside Gasol muddled things up for the Sixers offence and helped swing the series back into the Raptors favour. Ibaka was huge when the team needed it most in Game 7 of that series as well; while many just speak of Kawhi's shot - and understandably so - Ibaka was the second leading scorer with 17 points off the bench in a game where just seven players played the entire night.
Toronto might not have been in the position to win without his performance or his huge 3-pointer in the fourth quarter.
Serge hits the contested TRIPLE!#WeTheNorth | #NBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/KqZmL5k9Eb- NBA Canada (@NBACanada) May 13, 2019
From the Conference Finals and beyond, the bench became a strong point for the Raptors and Serge continued to be a major part of that. In the Conference Finals, Ibaka averaged 8.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game and recorded a 17-point, 13-rebound double-double in the Raptors Game 4 blowout of the Bucks.
Ibaka averaged 11.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in the Finals with highlights that include his six blocks in Toronto's Game 3 win and 15 points (on 7-12 shooting) in the closeout win at Oracle in Game 6.
As just 0.9 seconds and two Kawhi Leonard free throws stood in the way of the Raptors becoming NBA Champions, the look of unbridled joy was found on the face of Ibaka, who had been waiting for this moment for years.
Gone were the bitter memories of losing in the 2012 NBA Finals. Letting a 3-1 lead slip away in the Western Conference Finals in 2016 seemed like a distant memory.
In 2019, he was an NBA champion.
After the win, Ibaka once again took to social media to share that "A kid from Congo, becoming an NBA Champion is surreal. I was not supposed to be here but I never lost faith."
View this post on Instagram
A kid from Congo, becoming an NBA Champion is sureal. I was not supposed to be here but I never lost faith. This is a dream come true but also an opportunity for me to remind every kid in Congo, in Africa and everywhere that anything is possible. Thank you Toronto and Canada for welcoming me, this is for you!! #WeTheNorth #AnythingIsPossible
The team couldn't have done it without his contributions.
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