Tone of Raptors-Celtics matchup changes amid shooting unrest
By KYLE HIGHTOWER - Associated Press
Toronto and Boston are two of the hottest teams in the playoffs, coming off first-round sweeps of Brooklyn and Philadelphia, respectively, in the first round.
Both have the ability to put up points in bunches and have top rated defenses.
It’s set up to be one of the most even matchups of the second round — assuming the series starts on time.
Viral cellphone video showing the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Wisconsin, have ignited protests reminiscent of similar incidents in Georgia, Kentucky and Minnesota in recent months that caused many NBA players to speak out on racial injustice.
It came to a head when the NBA decided to postpone Wednesday’s three scheduled playoff games after the Milwaukee Bucks chose not to take the floor for their Game 5, first-round matchup against Orlando.
That was on the heels of Lowry raising the possibility of Toronto boycotting Thursday’s Game 1 against Boston. Teammate Fred VanVleet acknowledged the players had a meeting but wouldn’t elaborate.
Whatever happens, VanVleet said the tone of the series has been altered.
“I was pretty excited and then we all had to watch Jacob Blake get shot. … That kind of changes the tone of things,” he said. “It’s 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.”
Raptors coach Nick Nurse said that he didn’t know how likely a boycott was, but said it is “on the table.”
Blake’s shooting also has affected Celtics players.
Jaylen Brown tweeted “I want to go protest” on Tuesday and made an impassioned plea for justice after practice.
“(Blake’s) kids will never unsee that,” Brown said. “His family will never unsee that. And, frankly, I will never unsee it. People post my jersey all the time, No. 7. Every time I look at my jersey now, what I see is a Black man being shot seven times.”
Nurse said he supports his players in whatever they ultimately decide to do.
“I think we give them the platform to discuss it,” Nurse said. “They take their own initiative.”
Whenever the series does begin, both teams will likely be missing key players.
Lowry sprained his left ankle in Game 4 against the Nets and is day to day.
The Celtics, too, are adjusting after losing Gordon Hayward to a right ankle sprain in the opening game of their first-round series. He was given a four-week recovery window and is currently back in Boston rehabbing.
Even without Hayward, the Celtics are playing as well as they have all season on the offensive end with three players averaging more than 20 points per game.
Jayson Tatum is averaging 27.0 points per game on 48.7% shooting and 9.8 rebounds. He’s also shooting 45.2% from the 3-point line. Fellow All-Star Kemba Walker is averaging 24.3 points on 49.3% shooting and Brown is right behind him at 21.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.
Toronto’s biggest advantage may be in bench scoring. The Raptors’ reserves enter the series averaging 56.5 points per game, best among all playoff teams. The Celtics’ bench contributed only 20 points per game in the first round. With Hayward out, Stevens said it may mean continuing to play Tatum and Brown more with the second unit to try and mitigate the deficiency.
“Historically, (Toronto has) gone deep in their bench in playoff series. They’ve played their starters a ton of minutes, but they clearly have great confidence in their bench, and obviously the bench had 100 points in their last game, and that’s been huge,” Stevens said.
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