Marc Gasol says high post-season hopes made move to Toronto easier

TORONTO — Raptors fans welcomed newcomer Marc Gasol to Toronto with a standing ovation on Monday.

The player affectionately known as "Big Spain" showed them some love in return.

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Playing just his second game for the Raptors, and first in Toronto, Gasol scored nine of the Raptors' first 11 points in a key stretch of the fourth quarter against the Brooklyn Nets, including a three-pointer that gave Toronto a seven-point lead and brought the fans at Scotiabank Arena out of their seats.

"That was a heckuva stretch by him. Really fun, really impressive, right?" said Raptors coach Nick Nurse.

Gasol had 16 points in 22 minutes of the Raptors' 127-125 victory, plus six rebounds and one of his two assists was a swift dish to a cutting Pascal Siakam for a big basket.

The 34-year-old, who'd lived in Memphis since he was 16 and had been with the Grizzlies for 11 seasons, was traded for the first time last week when the Raptors acquired him in a blockbuster deal at Thursday's NBA trade deadline.

Gasol, who received a standing ovation when he entered Monday's game with 3:03 left in the first quarter, said the team's lofty post-season aspirations, plus the team's Spanish connection, eased his transition.

"(It's) the sole goal of winning. There's no doubt, there's no hesitation, we're here to win, and how you contribute to that, it's what's important," Gasol said through a wide smile. "So that makes things a lot easier because at the end of the day that's the answer that you're going to get."

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri hasn't been shy about assembling pieces for a championship run, jettisoning a third of the team's roster, including Lithuanian centre Jonas Valanciunas, ahead of the trade deadline. And ESPN reported Monday afternoon that sharpshooter Jeremy Lin, who scorched the Raptors with a buzzer-beating three in his breakout 2011-12 season, is en route to Toronto.

(Somebody had better teach the newcomers Kyle Lowry's quirky pre-game team intro, because Gasol certainly didn't get the memo Monday. The seven-foot-one centre stood with a puzzled grin while Lowry's teammates took up their positions for Lowry's intro where he crouches down to slap hands.)

Gasol figured he might be in for a hero's welcome in Toronto — he's already had a small taste of the Raptors' fan support when he debuted on the road at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

"We were playing in New York and you could already feel that energy," Gasol said. "It felt like there were thousands (of Raptors fans) up there. Imagine having all of them here. It's exciting. You feel happy. And what you're playing for, it's exciting as well."

While Gasol, who scored his first basket at 10:27 in the second quarter, came off the bench Monday, that spot isn't set in stone in Nurse's fluid rotation.

"It's more about easing him in," Nurse said. "It's early days . . . I think both units will benefit, hopefully. He's a good player."

Gasol appreciates Toronto's longstanding Spanish connection. He played alongside both Serge Ibaka, and former Raptors guard Jose Calderon, who still owns a house in the city, for Spain. Raptors assistant Sergio Scariolo coached Spain.

"They told me all great things about the organization and the city, so I couldn't be more excited about it," Gasol said.

Gasol's blue-collar work ethic made him one of the Grizzlies' most popular players. He was just 16 when his brother Pau was drafted by the Grizzlies in 2001, and the entire Gasol family made the move from Barcelona to the southern U.S. city. Marc attended tiny Memphis private high school Lausanne Collegiate School.

The Gasols never played together in Memphis. Marc was drafted 48th overall by the Lakers in the 2007 draft, then traded to Memphis as part of a deal that sent brother Pau to L.A.

Marc worked his way into a franchise player, earning three all-star nominations and winning the NBA's defensive player of the year award in 2013. But the Grizzlies advanced past the first round of the post-season just three times in the past decade, and didn't make the playoffs at all last year.

Being traded might have been a tough adjustment earlier in his career, Gasol said, but it sounds like he was ready to make this move.

"It's not as emotional probably. You're older. You're more mature," he said. "You put things into perspective. You understand the chance you have coming from a team that hasn't made the playoffs last year and more likely than not this year as well, having a chance to be back (in the post-season), you know how much it means.

"You look at the team and the way the franchise is set up and everybody around it, you understand what they're going for. It's all great things."

Gasol's wife works in Memphis, and so will move to Toronto in about a month with their two kids, aged two and four.

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