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

(File)
Interior News seeks messages for isolated Bulkley Valley seniors

Please join us in ensuring no one is forgotten this holiday season

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where one employee is still currently isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was first declared on Nov. 19. (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
54 positive COVID-19 cases associated with LNG Canada site outbreak

There’s been a two-person increase in positive cases since Tuesday (Dec. 1)

K-J Millar/The Northern View
8 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the Northern Health Authority

Since Nov. 27, there have been 191 new cases reported in NHA

RCMP will be out in force for the next four weeks looking for drunk and drug-impaired drivers. (Black Press file photo)
Smithers RCMP counter attack campaign starts

Additional officers and roadblocks will be on the streets throughout the holidays

A COVID-19 exposure has been recorded at Centennial Christian School in Terrace. The exposure occurred between Nov. 23 and Nov. 26, 2020. (Centennial Christian School Facebook photo)
COVID-19 exposure recorded at Centennial Christian School in Terrace

It’s the first known school exposure in Terrace

Pickleball game in Vancouver on Sunday, November 8, 2020. B.C.’s public health restrictions for COVID-19 have been extended to adult team sports, indoors and outside. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
711 more COVID-19 cases detected in B.C. Friday

‘Virus is not letting up and neither can we’

Demonstrators, organized by the Public Fishery Alliance, outside the downtown Vancouver offices of Fisheries and Oceans Canada July 6 demand the marking of all hatchery chinook to allow for a sustainable public fishery while wild stocks recover. (Public Fishery Alliance Facebook photo)
Angry B.C. anglers see petition tabled in House of Commons

Salmon fishers demand better access to the healthy stocks in the public fishery

(Hotel Zed/Flytographer)
B.C. hotel grants couple 18 years of free stays after making baby on Valentines Day

Hotel Zed has announced a Kelowna couple has received free Valentines Day stays for next 18 years

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Farmers raise slogans during a protest on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the diplomatic scolding Canada’s envoy to India received on Friday for his recent comments in support of protesting Indian farmers. Tens of thousands of farmers have descended upon the borders of New Delhi to protest new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup
Trudeau brushes off India’s criticism for standing with farmers in anti-Modi protests

The High Commission of India in Ottawa had no comment when contacted Friday

Nurse Kath Olmstead prepares a shot as the world’s biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway Monday, July 27, 2020, in Binghamton, N.Y. U.S. biotech firm Moderna says its vaccine is showing signs of producing lasting immunity to COVID-19, and that it will have as many as many as 125 million doses available by the end of March. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Hans Pennink
Canada orders more COVID vaccines, refines advice on first doses as cases reach 400K

Canada recorded its 300,000th case of COVID-19 on Nov. 16

Apartments are seen lit up in downtown Vancouver as people are encouraged to stay home during the global COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. British Columbia’s deputy provincial health officer says provincewide data show the most important area B.C. must tackle in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic is health inequity. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
Age, income among top factors affecting well-being during pandemic, B.C. survey shows

Among respondents earning $20,000 a year or less, more than 41 per cent reported concern about food insecurity

Victoria-based driving instructors are concerned for their own and the community’s safety with the continued number of residents from COVID hotspots in the Lower Mainland coming to the city to take their driving road tests. (Black Press Media file photo)
Students from COVID hotspots travel to Vancouver Island for driving tests

Union leader calls on government to institute stronger travel ban

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix wears a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19, during an announcement about a new regional cancer centre, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, August 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
PHSA bought faulty respirators; spent money on catering, renovations: Dix

Such spending included ‘unnecessary, unbudgeted renovations’ to the authority’s headquarters in Vancouver

Most Read