Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas has a piece of paper taped to the inside of his stall in Raptors’ locker-room at Air Canada Centre.
It’s a reminder list of things that he wants to incorporate into his game every night. The word “outwork” is circled at the top of the list in red block letters.
The sophomore centre has been putting in the effort in Toronto’s first-round series against Brooklyn and he’s getting results to show for it.
Valanciunas, who averaged 11.3 and 8.8 rebounds a game during the regular season, has been a force for the Raptors and given the team a reliable low-post presence.
“My game is defend the basket. I’m the big man out there,” Valanciunas said Thursday. “I’ve got to protect the basket, protect the paint, get all the rebounds. That’s my job. It’s a physical job.”
Valanciunas got into early foul trouble in Toronto’s 115-113 victory on Wednesday night but still finished with 16 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes of play.
He has looked impressive against Brooklyn’s big men and has shown no sign of playoff jitters. Valanciunas seems to relish the brighter spotlight and appears quite comfortable in his first NBA post-season appearance.
“You get more nervous before the game,” he said. “But I’m just trying to do my thing, trying to play my game. I’m not letting frustrations get in my head. I’m just playing my game.”
The imposing figure of veteran playoff warrior Kevin Garnett has not appeared to intimidate Valanciunas at all. In fact, he seems to thrive on the challenge and his numbers have been impressive.
Valanciunas had 17 points and 18 rebounds in his playoff debut and recorded double-doubles in the first three games of the series. He was 7-for-10 from the field in Game 5 and had one turnover as the Raptors blew a 26-point lead before pulling out the two-point win.
“I think that was a great experience for us,” Valanciunas said. “We (made) some bad plays, some bad defence and we just learned from that. We had a practice today and we fixed the mistakes and we’re going to try to not do that in Brooklyn.”
The Raptors can eliminate the Nets on Friday night in Game 6. If a seventh game is necessary, it will be played Sunday in Toronto.
“We’ve got to play the game we used to play, which is eliminate mistakes, eliminate letdowns because we had a huge letdown in the fourth quarter,” Valanciunas said. “We’ve got to eliminate those mistakes and we’re good. We can win.”