With Marc Gasol’s decision to go back home and play in Spain, it seems appropriate to look back on all the reasons he was a valuable piece to the 2018-2019 Toronto Raptors.
Before Marc Gasol, there was Jonas Valanciunas. The Lithuanian big man was always a fan favourite, and for years he manned the paint for the Toronto Raptors, often being a bright spot in terms of postseason offence. When Lowry and DeRozan would go cold, Jonas would get the team going near the bucket.
The one knock on JV though was on the defensive side of the ball, and Bobby Webster and Masai Ujiri knew that a better defensive presence at the five would push Toronto over the line, leading to the midseason deal that began Marc Gasol‘s tenure north of the border.
On February 8th, 2019, the Toronto Raptors found themselves with a 39-16 record, good enough for second place in the Eastern Conference. Despite the great start, Toronto was concerned about defence, and Raptors management made a big deal to keep up with the other contenders in the East who were also making moves.
The Raptors shipped Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, CJ Miles and a 2024 2nd rounder to Memphis for Marc Gasol. At the time, many thought it was a steep price to pay. Gasol was past his prime and wasn’t having the best of seasons, but Toronto banked on a change of scenery and trusted that Gasol would fit in their system, and their trust was pretty quickly repaid.
Fans were initially confused with Gasol’s role on the team as he began his tenure on the bench behind Serge Ibaka. When coming off the bench, it was apparent that Marc’s offensive game wasn’t where it once was, but he was still able to help the offence in ways that Valanciunas wouldn’t have been able to. Gasol has more confidence in his three-point shot than JV, and is such an elite-level passer that he was able to spread the floor for a guy like Kawhi to do his thing.
Once he became a bit more comfortable with his surroundings, Gasol was moved to the starting lineup where he typically saw around 25-30 minutes per game. His offensive numbers were far from staggering, but he still managed to put up 9.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG and 3.3 APG while playing elite-level defence.
As a team, the Raptors were completely bought in on Nick Nurse’s plan, and Gasol’s veteran leadership alongside the other leaders was important to keep the team focused on the postseason.
Game 1 aside, Toronto was able to walk past Orlando fairly easily in 5 games to advance to the second round. Gasol was quiet but sturdy, only finishing with double-digit points once, but as per usual, the defence was his shining star. Toronto held Orlando to below 100 points every single game, and Marc had a positive plus-minus rating in every game besides the heartbreaking game 1 loss. The Toronto Raptors had a veteran approach to this series, and Gasol had a large role in that.
In the Raptors well-covered second-round tilt vs Philadelphia that ended in ‘The Shot’, Gasol was his usual self, even pitching in on the score sheet in games 4 and 5 with 16 and 11 points respectively.
His best performance of the series was easily in game 7 however, as he grabbed 11 crucial rebounds in 45 minutes of action. In what was a cagey-defensive game, Gasol kept the Raptors organized, and was a big factor in allowing the Raptors to keep it close, eventually leading to one of the greatest shots in basketball history.
Much like the rest of the roster, Gasol laboured in games 1 and 2 against Milwaukee, struggling to find anything under the basket and getting picked apart by Giannis and company. He bounced back tremendously though with 16 and 17 point outings in games 3 and 4. The next 2 games he wasn’t as much of a contributor but was able to lock things down on defence and help Toronto reach their first Finals in franchise history.
Once the Finals began, Gasol sprinted out of the gate. He dropped a playoff-high 20 points in game 1 and had several other games in double figures in the finals as well. With all of the injuries Golden State was dealing with, they were having trouble dealing with the Raptors size, and Gasol was the perfect piece to plug in during those times: a big man who was crafty yet safe with the basketball.
Could the Toronto Raptors have gone on the same run had Valanciunas been there instead of Gasol? Possibly, we’ll never know. What we do know though is that Gasol delivered what was asked of him and then some, as he reintroduced himself into basketballs mainstream.
Let’s be real. The on-court play was good, but the parade was really when Marc Gasol became a Raptor legend. There’s something about public alcohol consumption that can really set a Canuck crowd on fire, and Gasol demolishing that bottle of wine mid-parade in front of millions of people was icing on the cake of the 2019 Toronto Raptors run. Just months before, Marc had been going through the motions in Memphis, nowhere near an NBA title, and yet there he was on York Street living his best life.
When his career is reflected on, Marc Gasol likely won’t be remembered as a Raptor. His tenure in Toronto was minuscule compared to the shift he worked in Memphis, but that doesn’t mean that his impact wasn’t large. The Spaniard was in Canada for a good time, not a long time. What a great time it was.