Get the latest summer forecast and weather knowledge from Cindy Day
Want to become a member? Check out the benefits here.
Thanking our essential workers
SaltWire's cartoonists bring heart and humour to the news.
Visit SaltWire.com for more of the stories you want.
SaltWire Selects: Our weekend entertainment picks
What you need to know about COVID-19: September 21, 2020
Friday’s game between Toronto Boston seemed like it would be a bit more meaningful when the NBA first announced its bubble restart schedule.
After all, they were the Eastern Conference’s second and third-best teams heading in and the battle for second was very much up in the air.
But Toronto has won all three of its games in Orlando so far and Boston has only triumphed once in three tries, so now Toronto only needs one more win, or one Celtics defeat to wrap up second-place.
The teams still seem destined to finally meet in the playoffs for the first time, which could happen in the second round after Brooklyn and Orlando are dispatched.
Toronto has one of the better home-court advantages in basketball — which could have come in handy against Boston — but of course that’s negated in the bubble.
Still, head coach Nick Nurse thinks there will still be some advantage to being the “home” team more often than not in the playoffs.
“I’m not sure the home-court thing won’t be a little bit of an advantage, maybe,” Nurse said earlier this week.
“It seems like (the NBA is) tweaking a little bit more and more as they go here in the games, as they’re learning things about how to put the game on in this setting,” he said.
“We’re seeing familiar faces on those screens … you can see family members and coaches’ family members and players family members (virtually in the stands), there is a sense of personal touch to it and who knows what it’ll evolve to here two months from now. So I don’t want to discount the home court thing quite yet,” Nurse said.
Nurse was looking forward to matching up with Boston, a team that actually has been given more favourable odds of winning the title this season than Toronto.
“We take the competition seriously. When there’s a game to be played, we try to win it,” Nurse said.
The Raptors have a deep belief in themselves. They didn’t care what the pundits had to say last year and nothing has changed.
“We are a no-excuse team,” said centre Marc Gasol, who has been masterful defensively during the first three games in the bubble.
“I don’t need somebody to tell me to believe in something. You go out there and you compete, and you can beat anybody. It doesn’t take a genius to know we have a lot of pieces and so I don’t need somebody to tell me we can win it. Obviously, it’s really hard and it’s a different year obviously but any given night we can be one of the good teams,” Gasol said.
The Raptors have made believers out of opponents as well. Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra talked Wednesday of how much respect he has for the organization.
Spoelstra’s counterpart with Orlando, Steve Clifford, had similar thoughts.
“They play so well. They score off their defence,” said Clifford, a long-time defensive guru.
“They do two things that, to me, usually don’t go together: They’re great with their help defence and they steal the ball. It starts with that,” Clifford said.
One thing the Raptors won’t do is wonder how they match up with Boston or if the oddsmakers have it right.
“We don’t question those types of things,” Gasol said.
“We don’t spend any energy in having that discourse. It’s great bar talk. We understand the media has to do that, and it does create a lot of discussion, and that is always great. We are not easy to beat, and we believe in ourselves,” he said.
“We have a lot of tools, a lot of players, a lot of great players, and, to me, the best coaching staff you can have in the NBA right now. You have all the pieces, you’ve just got to put them together and have everybody buying in and everybody has to sacrifice a little bit like we do from our own game for the best of the team.”
RAPTORS VS. CELTICS TIPOFF
TONIGHT: 9 P.M. ET TSN/680 NEWS
Boston has dropped 2-of-3 at the bubble in Orlando, though the Celtics have been up against a tough schedule and have not had star point guard Kemba Walker at full strength. Walker is day-to-day for this one as the team tries to get his knee stronger. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better perimeter trio than Jayson Tatum (23.4 points per game), Jaylen Brown (20.6) and Gordon Hayward (17.3), but the Celtics don’t have a lot up front.
OG Anunoby vs. Jayson Tatum
These guys go way back, having come through the Missouri AAU system, but they’re not pals on the court. Tatum is one of the NBA’s most talented young scorers, while Anunoby is one of the premier young defenders you’ll find in the league. Both are also coming along rapidly at the other ends of the floor. Tatum now gets tough defensive assignments, while Anunoby has scored at least 10 points in 9-of-12 games since the all-star break. This should be a fun matchup.
DID YOU KNOW?
Boston leads the season series 2-1, but Kyle Lowry is averaging 24.3 points per game against the Celtics in the three meetings … Toronto’s .691 winning percentage since the start of the 2015-16 season is the best in the NBA … The Raptors were hoping Brown would fall to them in the 2016 draft because they loved him, but he was long gone (No. 3 overall) by the time they were up. Still, they got Jakob Poeltl with the ninth pick, Pascal Siakam with the 27th and scooped up undrafted point guard Fred VanVleet too. Both teams came away from that draft very happy.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020