The fate of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series between the Boston Celtics and the Toronto Raptors was uncertain less than 24 hours before the scheduled tip.
The Celtics and the Raptors held a players-only meeting Tuesday night to discuss the possibility of boycotting Thursday’s game in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, in Kenosha, Wis., on Sunday. The teams were set to meet again Wednesday, but the stakes have changed after the NBA canceled its entire slate of games on a day the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted Game 5 of their first-round series against the Orlando Magic.
In the aftermath of the developing situation, the NBA players remaining in the bubble near Orlando met Wednesday night to discuss next steps. What will happen Thursday, and the status of the rest of the NBA playoffs, had yet to be announced.
“The players are deeply disappointed that the same thing happens again in a relatively short timeframe,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse before the boycotts Wednesday afternoon, alluding to the killing of George Floyd in May. “They want to be part of the solution. They want to help. They want justice. They want this particular problem to be handled in a much better way.”
The Raptors were the first NBA team to publicly broach the idea of a boycott when guards Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell opened up to the media Tuesday about how the shooting of Blake was affecting players.
“We’re dealing with it in real time, and I think it affects everybody differently,” VanVleet said. “It’s pretty fresh on my mind, and I’m sitting in front of a camera, so I’m just speaking as I’m going. But, yeah, there’s a lot of different things that we’ve discussed.”
The Celtics later that day echoed the feelings coming from the Raptors’ locker room, with coach Brad Stevens saying then that despite no players telling him specifically they didn’t want to play, the impact was still clear.
“We’ve talked about it as a team and just how we feel. We haven’t talked about it enough, but obviously everybody is shook,” Stevens said.
Things undoubtedly progressed Wednesday.
“I know some guys have thought about going home,” Boston forward Jayson Tatum said. “A lot of things are bigger than basketball, and we understand that. We’re people, first and foremost. We’re not just basketball players. So the feeling of being isolated from the outside world, that’s kind of how I feel right now. I know a lot of other guys feel the same way.”
If the Celtics and Raptors do play, it would be the fifth meeting between the Atlantic Division rivals this season. Boston won three of four during the regular season, including a 122-100 victory in the bubble on Aug. 7.
The Celtics swept the Philadelphia 76ers during their first-round playoff series, Tatum averaging 27 points per game in the four contests. The Raptors similarly swept the Brooklyn Nets, with VanVleet (21.3 points per game) and Pascal Siakam (20.8 ppg) leading the way.
–Field Level Media