Serge Ibaka poised to be the missing ingredient in Raptors’ playoff success

TORONTO — Dwane Casey was asked whether Serge Ibaka is a good talker on the basketball court.

“In what language?” the coach said.

It was a very on-point joke. Ibaka, the Toronto Raptors power forward, set what might just be an unofficial NBA record the other night when, after his 23-point performance in Game 1 against the Washington Wizards, he answered three consecutive questions in three different languages.

The clip of Ibaka, the 28-year-old from the Democratic Republic of Congo, listening and answering questions in English, then French, then Spanish, was widely shared on social media over the weekend. Members of the Raptors press corps are now trying to figure out if they can ask Ibaka a question in Lingala, the fourth language in which he is fluent, to complete the sweep.

As impressive as his linguistic skills are, it’s what he can do on a basketball court that prompted the Raptors to acquire Ibaka before the trade deadline last season. And though the experiment didn’t immediately transform the Raptors in the way management might have hoped, a year later the difference his addition makes has become increasingly more evident. If the Raptors are going to make the kind of noise in these playoffs they keep saying they expect, then Ibaka will be a key part of it.

Ibaka, who first made his name in the league as a surprisingly agile 6-foot-10 defensive terror for the star-studded Oklahoma City teams that made it as far as the NBA Finals in 2012, immediately became the most playoff-tested player on the Toronto roster when he arrived from Orlando last February. But Kyle Lowry was injured soon after he arrived, and by the time the post-season opened last season, Ibaka, Lowry and the rest of the starters had barely played together.

Casey said on Monday that working Ibaka into …read more

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