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 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

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

Kristy Bjarnason will be filling in the position left vacant by Darrell Hill. (Councillor Kristy Bjarnason Facebook photo/Lakes District News)
Kristy Bjarnason elected to be the new councillor

Preliminary election results for the 2021 by-election declared

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

The COVID-19 outbreak at the two Coastal GasLink workforce lodges has officially been declared over. (Lakes District News file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at Coastal GasLink worksites declared over

In total, 56 cases were associated with the outbreak in the Burns Lake and Nechako LHAs

Crews with Discovery Channel film as an Aggressive Towing driver moves a Grumman S2F Tracker aircraft around a 90-degree turn from its compound and onto the road on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. It was the “most difficult” part of the move for the airplane, one organizer said. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Vintage military plane gets towed from Chilliwack to Greater Victoria

Grumman CP-121 Tracker’s eventual home the British Columbia Aviation Museum on Vancouver Island

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Great Canadian Gaming CEO resigns after being accused of sneaking into Yukon for vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

Police discovered a makeshift nightclub in a Vancouver apartment on Jan. 23, 2021, and say it wasn’t the first time this month officers have been called to the unit over social gathering concerns. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Doorman of makeshift ‘booze-can’ in Vancouver apartment fined; police look to court order

This marks the fourth complaint about social gatherings inside the apartment in January

A Kelowna couple welcomed their Nooner baby in December. (Flytographer)
Kelowna couple welcomes baby girl from Hotel Zed Nooner campaign

Nicole and Alex will now have 18 years of free stays at the hotel

Kyrell Sopotyk was drafted by the Kamloops Blazers in 2016 and played two seasons with the Western Hockey League club. (Photograph By ALLEN DOUGLAS/KTW)
Kamloops Blazer paralyzed in snowboarding accident sparks fundraiser for family

As of Jan. 24, more than $68,000 had been raised to help Kamloops Blazers’ forward Kyrell Sopotyk

(Pixhere photo)
B.C. dentists argue for COVID-19 vaccine priority after ‘disappointing’ exclusion from plan

Vaccines are essential for dentists as patients cannot wear masks during treatment, argues BCDA

The fine for changing lanes or merging over a solid line costs drivers $109 and two penalty points in B.C. (Screenshot via Google Street View)
B.C. drivers caught crossing, merging over solid white lines face hefty fine

Ticket for $109, two penalty points issued under Motor Vehicle Act for crossing solid lines

A registered nurse prepares a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Yukon’s Minister of Community Services, John Streiker, says he’s outraged that a couple from outside the territory travelled to a remote community this week and received doses of COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan-POOL
Couple charged after travelling to Yukon to get COVID-19 vaccine

The maximum fine under the emergency measures act is $500, and up to six months in jail

Metis Nation of B.C. President Clara Morin Dal Col poses in this undated handout photo. The Metis Nation of B.C. says Dal Col has been suspended from her role as president. The Metis Nation of B.C. says Dal Col has been suspended from her role as president. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Metis Nation of B.C. *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Metis Nation of B.C. suspends president, citing ‘breach’ of policies, procedures

Vice-president Lissa Smith is stepping in to fill the position on an acting basis

Most Read