Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) and the Raptors celebrate the game and series victory against the Brooklyn Nets following Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP

Toronto Raptors set to restart after emotional few days in NBA bubble

Raptors Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell were among the first to mention a boycott

Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse was surprised to hear some of his players say they hadn’t wanted to come to the NBA bubble in the first place.

On the eve of the Raptors’ second-round opener against the Boston Celtics, and after an emotional few days in the Walt Disney World bubble, the coach said he’s had numerous heart-to-hearts with his players.

Nurse’s opinion is that they can do better work against social injustice with the world watching them play.

And that was a key reason the league decided to reconvene after the four-month layoff due to COVID-19.

“Playing these games certainly gives our guys a much better platform for social justice and any cause … that was kind of the conversations that I had individually and I expressed to the team,” the coach said Saturday.

“In all reality, we only really request their attention for a couple hours a day, and the rest of the day they can do whatever they want, and then they get a chance to earn a living and support their family on top of that and they have a platform to do that with. So, that’s one of the basis of a lot of the conversations.”

The shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by Wisconsin police last weekend ignited an NBA that had already made social and racial justice a major theme of the restart. Raptors Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell were among the first to mention a boycott, then the Milwaukee Bucks did just that, refusing to take the floor Wednesday against Orlando.

Their protest led to the league shutting down for three days, and then subsequent strikes in other sports.

READ MORE: NHL playoffs return after 2-day break for protests

The Raptors, including all-star guard Kyle Lowry who sprained his left ankle in Sunday’s Game 4 rout of Brooklyn, practised Saturday for the first time in three days.

Nurse said it felt like another restart.

“You’re just working on passing and catching the ball and dribbling a little bit and just kind of getting the cobwebs out and it took a while, to be honest with you, it took almost I’d say half, or three-fourths of a practice before it felt like we kind of were moving OK and were zeroed in on basketball a little bit,” Nurse said. ”But all understandable stuff.”

Nurse said earlier this week that some of his players had wanted to leave the NBA bubble. Many players, not only Raptors, felt that leaving to protest was more important than playing.

But teams returned to the court after the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association agreed on commitments, including a few centred around voting. Among them: all team owners who control their arena property will work with local officials to provide those arenas for voting in the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election.

That doesn’t apply to Toronto, obviously. But Nurse and the Raptors launched a campaign a few weeks ago to encourage the some-650,000 Americans living in Canada to register to vote.

“We know that only 30-some thousand of them, around five per cent, voted in the last election,” Nurse said. “That’s a ridiculous number, 30-some thousand out of 650,000 plus is mind-boggling. We’re trying to help with that.”

Asked if there a goal for how many voters they want to get registered, Nurse replied: “650,000.”

The Raptors and Celtics have been two of the hottest teams in the bubble, Boston handing the Raptors their only loss in the restart. Both swept their first-round opponent easily, with the Celtics beating Philadelphia in four games.

Both have balanced offences and boast among the league’s best defences.

While Lowry was listed as questionable for Sunday’s opener, Nurse said he looked “OK” practising on Saturday.

Putting aside the emotions of the past few historic days might prove to be the toughest task when the ball finally goes up again.

While no Toronto players spoke to the media on Saturday, VanVleet said earlier this week that the tone of this unprecedented post-season, which was already delayed four months due to COVID-19, had changed.

“I was pretty excited and then we all had to watch Jacob Blake get shot. … That kind of changes the tone of things,” VanVleet had said. “(The protests) aren’t supposed to not be in vain. It’s just starting to feel like everything we’re doing is just going through the motions, nothing’s changing.”

READ MORE: Man shot by police in Wisconsin no longer handcuffed to hospital bed

Nurse said he’s learned a lot about his players both in the past few days, and even the past few weeks in Florida since George Floyd, a Black man, was killed by police in May. His death ignited protests across the U.S. and even globally.

“I continue to get personal stories from our players about incidents they have been through themselves with law enforcement officers which are personal and disheartening and disappointing,” Nurse said.

READ MORE: 2nd day of NBA games halted over racial injustice

Teams are physically isolated from the outside world at the NBA’s campus at Disney World, and so there have been questions about whether they realize the impact their messages against social and racial injustice have had.

Nurse pointed out that the ”bubble” isn’t vastly different from the virtual bubble players live in to maintain focus during any post-season run.

“You’ve got to create a little bit of that to focus. I’m not on social media listening to what is happening and things like that so I don’t know if you’re unaware,” he said. “But I don’t think you are totally aware of the impact it is having all over the place.

“I thought it was awesome the other sports joined in. I really do. I think it was a great show of class and support, especially MLB and WNBA and the NHL. That was great.

“I think it’s one of those things that is going to take some time to sink in and looking back on it, (it’s difficult) to see what magnitude when you are kind of in the middle on the ground of it.”

On the court, meanwhile, the Celtics are also battling injuries. Gordon Hayward sprained his ankle in the first round and is back in Boston rehabbing.

Both teams spread their scoring around. Toronto is the first team with five players averaging 15 points per game since the 1973-74 Buffalo Braves. Boston has three players averaging more than 20 points per game in Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown.

The Raptors bench has been outstanding, averaging a league-best 56.5 points per game. The reserves scored an NBA-record 100 points in their Game 4 rout of Brooklyn.

Game 2 is scheduled for Tuesday.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

NBA

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

Submitted
BC VOTES 2020: John Rustad re-elected in Nechako Lakes riding

The result is based on preliminary vote count and the final results will be available after Nov.6

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

RCMP stock photo (Black Press)
Charges laid against Prince George man, 39, in drug trafficking probe

Tyler Aaron Gelowitz is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 18

(Image by Ulrike Leone from Pixabay)
QUIZ: A celebration of colour

Fall in British Columbia is a time to enjoy a spectrum of vivid colours

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Most Read