After several days of powerful protests, the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors return to the court for Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series Sunday afternoon near Orlando.
The second-round series was originally slated to begin Thursday before the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their playoff game Wednesday in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, in Wisconsin last weekend. The historic gesture had a ripple effect, as the NBA postponed games for three days while many other sports followed suit in a show of unity across the American athletics landscape.
Potentially canceling the remainder of the NBA playoffs was on the table as players, coaches and owners were involved in a series of meetings to determine the next course of action. It was ultimately decided that resuming the postseason as of Saturday was the best way to move forward, with a renewed focus on advocating for social justice, voting access and police reform.
“What everyone saw in the past couple days was guys just needing to reset, to refocus, and that’s what we did,” said NBA Players Association president Chris Paul of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Players from both the Celtics and Raptors were each vocal about the need for change in the 24 hours progressing toward the Bucks’ boycott. The idea of potentially protesting games was first broached by Toronto guards Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell during media availability Tuesday, with each player describing in detail how the shooting of Blake had affected them.
“We’re dealing with it in real time, and I think it affects everybody differently,” said VanVleet. “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.”
Celtics players similarly voiced their feelings.
“A lot of things are bigger than basketball, and we understand that,” said forward Jayson Tatum on Wednesday before the boycotts began. “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.”
Both Boston and Toronto returned to practice Friday, each canceling media availability as the NBA was still determining its plan to return to play. Sunday’s contest between the teams will be the first game of the playoffs’ second round.
The Celtics and the defending champion Raptors met four times during the regular season, with Boston winning three of four. The Atlantic Division rivals have never met in the playoffs.
The Celtics swept the Philadelphia 76ers during their first-round series, with Tatum averaging 27.0 points and 9.8 rebounds per game in the four contests. The defending champion Raptors swept the Brooklyn Nets, with VanVleet (21.3 points per game) and Pascal Siakam (20.8) leading the way.
Toronto guard Kyle Lowry (left ankle sprain) is listed as questionable. Boston remains without starting forward Gordon Hayward, who sprained his right ankle in Game 1 against Philadelphia.
–Field Level Media