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Celtics send Raptors to first bubble loss in potential playoff preview

Boston Celtics’ Kemba Walker, and Toronto Raptors’ OG Anunoby compete for the ball last night in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. AP
Boston Celtics’ Kemba Walker, and Toronto Raptors’ OG Anunoby compete for the ball last night in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. AP

There’s no question NBA fans are long overdue for a Celtics-Raptors playoff matchup.

Despite the two teams sharing the same conference and each making the playoffs the past five years, a meeting post regular season has never happened.

If it does this season, the hope is it’s a lot more competitive than the game the two teams played on Friday night.

The Raptors, one of two teams unbeaten in the bubble since the seeding games began, can no longer make that claim after being thoroughly dominated 122-100 by a Celtics team that, before last night, looked to be in a little trouble.

Toronto’s defence, which had been the talk of the NBA campus, seemed to take the night off facing a Celtics team that, barring an upset of either team in the first round, will likely see a few weeks from now in the conference semifinals. As soon as it became apparent that the Raptors weren’t going to have even a mediocre shooting night — they scored only 14 points in the first quarter — the defence fell off precipitously.

As for takeaways or learning lessons from this game, head coach Nick Nurse said there was little, but he did come up with one.

“The only thing I probably did learn is we’ve got to get a couple of our guys playing a little better,” he said, stopping short of naming them. “I’m not really concerned about some of the main guys, but there are a couple of guys that need to play a little better since the restart and I’m glad we still have four games to get ’em going and give them that chance. I’m not worried about their work ethic or their conditioning or some of those things. I just need to get them a little more confident, have things go their way a little bit more.”

Defensively, the Celtics seemed to have more straight-line drives or uncontested gimmes in this game than the Raptors have given up combined since the restart.

Norm Powell, who was one of three bench players in double digits, did not like what he saw from his team defensively.

“That’s us being a step late in the rotation. That’s us not putting in that second effort like we’ve been doing all year,” he said. “That’s something that we can take away from all this, knowing that we let them go where they wanted to go. We weren’t the ones that were being physical into the bodies the way we were playing the previous three games.

“Each game, we’ve been the ones being physical and were bringing that aggressive style and that physicality to them. But they brought it to us and we needed to respond and be a little tougher and stand in there help one another. You know, those straight-line drives and wide-open shots are us in our rotations that we see in film and we can get better at.”

Should these two teams finally meet in the playoffs a few weeks from now, expect a much crisper effort than the one the Raptors put in last night.

‘TRAIL BLAZERS’ RECOGNIZED

Nurse and the Raptors have put together another initiative that is starting to get some notice around the league.

Much like the reaction the Raptors buses with Black Lives Matter logos covering them when they pulled into the bubble in Orlando, the Raptors’ ‘Because of You’ initiative is turning heads.

The players and their head coach were all decked out pre-game last night in shirts with the likeness of Wayne Embry on them. Embry has been the a senior adviser with the Raptors since 2004 but long before that he broke the colour barrier in the NBA twice. The first time came in 1971 when Embry became the first Black general manager in league history with the Milwaukee Bucks. Twenty-three years later, he became the first Black team president in the NBA with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Fittingly, the Raptors chose Embry to be the man they began their ‘Because of You’ campaign.

Nurse explained the origin of the campaign pre-game.

“The phrase ‘because of you’ comes from Barack Obama to John Lewis,” Nurse said of the recently deceased civil rights leader. “John Lewis asked Barack Obama to sign a book, or a piece of paper or something, and Barack Obama wrote ‘because of you, John’ and signed his name. With the passing of John Lewis here recently, one of our members of our leadership team came up with this fantastic idea to honour some living legends that did some historic things. And Wayne Embry, right in our own organization, was one of those, becoming the first African-American general manager, then the first African-American team president.”

Embry has been a sounding board and father figure in the organization since he arrived 16 years ago and as current team president Masai Ujiri has made clear, he will be doing that as long as Ujiri is in his position and as long as Embry wants to remain.

Nurse is hoping other teams will follow the Raptors lead on this one and begin their own initiatives.

RAPS DOWN ONE

The Raptors’ depth took a bit of a hit Friday when guard Pat McCaw was forced to leave the NBA bubble for medical treatment.

McCaw, whose injury has been kept in-house until now, is dealing with the re-occurrence of a benign mass on the back of his left knee.

He’ll leave the NBA campus in Orlando to seek treatment from Dr. Riley Williams at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York to determine his next step.

McCaw previously saw Williams in November for the same condition.

“He’s already had it checked and is scheduled to go have it done, to leave on Monday,” Nurse confirmed pre-game. “I think they checked it and it’s hurting him, but it’s not terribly bad. I think we’ll have to see how the procedure goes Monday, but what the reading was as of last night was that it’s not that bad but it needs to be cleaned up just a little bit. So we’ll keep our fingers crossed that it goes well and it’s not too extensive.”

McCaw did not take part in any of the scrimmages or seeding games to date. Pre-pandemic this season he appeared in 37 games. averaging 24.5 minutes a game with 4.6 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.

Under NBA rules, the Raptors are not allowed to replace McCaw and their roster now stands at 16 players.

An update on his status will be provided when appropriate, according to the team.

Late in Friday’s game, Serge Ibaka was forced to leave after getting poked in the eye.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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