The Toronto Raptors looked unrecognizable when they returned to playoff action on Sunday, after an emotional week in which NBA players boycotted their games to speak out against racism.
The Boston Celtics clobbered the NBA defending champions 112-94 in Game 1 of their highly anticipated second-round playoff series.
The Raptors struggled to hit shots and went an uncharacteristic 10-of-40 from three-point range.
Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart scored 21 points each for Boston, while Jaylen Brown scored 17 and Kemba Walker recorded his first career postseason double-double with 18 points and 10 assists. Centre Daniel Theis had 13 points, with 15 rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.
Kyle Lowry, who suffered a sprained left ankle last Sunday, was back and led Toronto with 17 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Serge Ibaka had 15 points, Pascal Siakam had 13, OG Anunoby 12, Fred VanVleet 11 and Norm Powell 10.
It had been a week since the Raptors swept away the Brooklyn Nets.
The days in between were long and difficult, filled with hard conversations about systemic racism. At times, as Lowry attested, they considered leaving the bubble. The boycott by NBA players spurred the sports world toward a screeching halt. The basketball players decided to stay in Orlando and created an action plan: arenas becoming polling stations; a social-justice coalition; and ads about civic social engagement and voting.
Then they rapidly had to flip their minds back to basketball.
“Our job is to play basketball, but we also have a job and a platform to speak up,” Lowry said on his postgame video call Sunday, while wearing a Black Lives Matter hat. “It’s a hard job and we’re professionals and we’re men – Black men. We have to be able to do both. It’s something I take pride in.”
There was a moment of silence before the game for three friends of the league who died during this overwhelming week – former all-star Cliff Robinson, popular college coach Lute Olson, and actor Chadwick Boseman. Then the players and coaches linked their arms around one another once again to kneel for the anthems.
The Raptors looked in a fog from the start, clanking shots, getting beat to rebounds. They kept turning over the ball – three of Lowry’s five came in the first five minutes. Smart out-muscled them. They got into foul trouble and squabbled with referees about the pettiness of many whistles.
Nurse began the second quarter with both Ibaka and Marc Gasol on the floor, and switched up defensively to a zone. Toronto manufactured a mini rally, pulling to within seven, but the momentum fizzled.
“Nothing was going right, nothing, the ball wasn’t bouncing our way, we were making bad decisions, and the whistle was funky, layups were being missed, wide-open threes were being missed, it was hard,” Nurse said. “I was just trying to search for anything to slow them down.”
The Celtics were so good, it made you forget they were without their star, Gordon Hayward, who has an injured ankle.
The Raptors were creating open shots but could not knock them down. They shot a clunky 28.9 per cent from the field in the first half, after which they trailed 59-42. Toronto made a little dent in that disadvantage through the second half, but the Celtics kept hopping ahead, by as much as 24.
Boston bottled up VanVleet, but undeterred, he kept shooting. The point guard, who had been so sensational in the opening round against Brooklyn, shot 3-of-16 on this bizarre afternoon. Powell was 4-of-12, Siakam 5-of-16, Lowry 5-of-12.
The Raptors, who typically feast on transition buckets, scored only seven fast break points on Sunday. They created turnovers, but then couldn’t score. Boston’s Robert Williams threw down a late windmill dunk that demonstrated how thoroughly the Celtics were dictating.
A five-point Lowry burst of energy in the fourth looked promising for a minute, but it wasn’t enough to spark something against a foe like Boston on a day like this.
It was the fourth time this season that the Celtics beat the Raptors.
The two teams will face off in Game 2 on Tuesday.