Round 2, Game 1: Recap

As the NBA got back to the court this weekend, the games were preempted by tributes to three people close to basketball in different ways, all of them having passed away this week. There was 18-year NBA vet Cliff Robinson, legendary Arizona coach Lute Olson and finally actor Chadwick Boseman. A moment of silence was given for all three before the playing of the national anthems. 

Players and coaches have been kneeling for the anthems since the bubble began in July. The bubble itself was threatened this week when players opted to not play two days’ worth of playoff games to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake. The continuation of these playoffs hinges on the league working with players to carry out social justice platforms aimed at increasing voting and awareness of systemic racism. 

That’s a lot to process and if it feels heavy, like issues bigger than basketball push down on the bubble now, it’s because it is and they do. 

“You’ve still got to do your job,” Kyle Lowry said on Sunday afternoon, after the Raptors fell 112-94 to the Celtics in Game 1 of their East Semifinal series. Lowry had a team-high 17 points, eights assists and six rebounds. 

“Our job is to play basketball but we also have a job and a platform to speak up and speak out to everything we want to speak out (on),” he said. “Getting people to realize to vote, police reform. We’ve got to do both. It's a hard job. We're professionals and we're men, black men. We have to be able to do both and it’s something that I take pride in, being able to do that.” 

There were no excuses from the Raptors for their Game 1 performance. Serge Ibaka quickly noted that the Celtics were in the same situation that they were. Both teams were vocal in the days leading up to the stoppage in play this week, putting the first utterances of not playing out into the basketball world. 

The Raptors came out flat, going almost three minutes before scoring their first basket. They Heard the ref’s whistles seven times in the first seven minutes and 11 times in the first quarter, while the Celtics shook off their weeklong rust and opened the game up in the second quarter, after the Raptors were unable to take advantage of a slow Boston start to that frame. 

“I think if you're looking for excuses -- or reasons, maybe ‘excuses’ is too hard -- you can sit there and say it's understandable and maybe it is. But what do you do?” Nick Nurse said. 

“We’ve got this moment where we’ve got to play and we can use our thoughts and energies towards a lot of positive good away from the games. There's a lot of time to do that. But when it comes time to play, we’ve got to somehow focus in and play. I mean, (the Celtics) went through the same stuff. It didn't seem to bother them, right? They were great. We weren't very good. So we're going to have to bounce back.” 

Two pillars of the Raptors’ success the past two seasons will use Monday to think about how to have more of an impact on Game 2. Fred VanVleet played a team-high 38 minutes in the loss and scored 11 points while shooting 2-11 from three. Pascal Siakam had 13 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals and like all of his teammates on Sunday, seemed to be out of rhythm when he got the ball in his hands. 

“I don't think (VanVleet) had as good of opportunities maybe as Pascal did. I thought Pascal had some point blank layups,” Nurse said. “He got to a lot of good spots and we just couldn't get any of them to go. A couple of them were just literally right in front of the basket and he left them short. 

“Then he had a couple wide open threes. He had probably the best three-ball looks of just about anybody and he didn't cash in on those either. (Boston) played really good defence and they were active and they had us out of rhythm. I'm not so sure there were some pretty good opportunities there that we just need to score on too as well.” 

The Raptors didn’t look like themselves in Game 1, shooting 39.9 per cent from the field and 25 per cent from three on the day, while giving up a plethora of corner threes to a hot-shooting Celtics team that made 17 of 39 attempts from deep. There were moments where the Raptors clicked defensively, with that start of the second quarter serving as an opening that closed up when they couldn’t make enough shots. 

It could have been a number of factors. The weight of the past week, the rust that can accrue in a week between playoff series, or the fact that the Raptors haven’t historically been a good Game 1 team. Every team left in the bubble is in this situation, bearing the weight of the larger issues from outside that need addressing. It’s yet another never-before-seen situation in a year that’s found ways to have a seemingly endless supply of them. The Raptors know they need to be better to make this a series and to stay in Florida into September and beyond. 

“I think it's a unique scenario, that's for sure,” Nurse said. “I don't think I can ever say I've had a challenge like this one but I've had lots of challenges and many unique situations. And this is another one. We're going to have to look in the mirror here for a while and we’re going to have to come out and play.” 

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