Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas at ‘maximum’ disappointment following injury

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Toronto Raptors' Jonas Valanciunas (17) reacts after scoring against the Los Angeles Clippers during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

Standing in a track suit with his left thumb encased in a massive cast, Toronto Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas was asked to gauge his disappointment at having his thumb dislocated, the surgery that followed and the prospect of a recovery that could stretch to mid-February.

“Maximum,” he said. “We were rolling, we were doing good. I’m not saying we’re not going to do it right now, but it’s always fun to kick ass.”

Valanciunas was in the midst of perhaps his best professional season even though the seven-year veteran was being used largely off the bench for the first time in his career.

Through 30 games – 20 coming off the bench, 10 as starter – Valanciunas was averaging 12.8 points and 7.2 rebounds on 57.5 per cent shooting. While those numbers aren’t far removed from his career averages, that he was posting them while playing a career-low in minutes is a reflection of how far his game had come in recent years. By sharing the centre position with Serge Ibaka the Raptors have been getting all-NBA calibre production out of the platoon and Valanciunas has more than done his part.

“My initial thoughts are it sucks any time for him but I think even more with the way he was kind of rising with his play,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “All the stuff we’ve been working hard at, figuring out ways to keep him on the floor, in different scenarios and coverages and things seemed to be working so it’s a setback. I feel bad for him, he loves to play, you know he loves to play.”

That Valanciunas injured his hand after being fouled hard by the Golden State Warriors Draymond Green tell a story in itself: in the past Valanciunas has had hard time matching up with the Warriors smaller, high-paced lineups and often spends long stretches of the game on the bench. On Wednesday night he was 3-of-4 from the floor and thriving in the first half as the Raptors were on their way to a blowout win as he caused problems for the smaller Warriors centres with his presence.

The Raptors will rely on veteran big man Greg Monroe to eat up most of Valanciunas’ 18 minutes a night while Canadian Chris Boucher has been called up from Raptors 905 for insurance.

Valanciunas’ thumb was dislocated when Green reached for the ball and he was instantly in excruciating pain and it got worse when they tried unsuccessfully to put the thumb back in its socket right away.

“I thought they were going to pop it back in, but it was not going back in,” he said. “Now it’s funny but wasn’t that funny when I was in the locker room. At first I just felt the hit and I saw my thumb and the pain started to kick in.”

He had surgery on Wednesday morning in Palo Alto, Calif. He’s expected to be in a cast for four weeks and would likely need several weeks of rehabilitation after that.

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