NBA champions Toronto Raptors ready to pick up where they left off
OG Anunoby had 23 points, while Pascal Siakam added 15 and Fred VanVleet scored 13 points in a game many touted as a potential preview of the NBA Finals.
LeBron James, who was singing with O Canada when the camera passed him, had 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Kyle Kuzma added 16 points.
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The reboot of the NBA is unprecedented. The stakes, on several levels, are enormous. Emotions run high – and that was evident in the night’s pre-game ceremonies.
The Raptors and Lakers knelt for both anthems. Linking arms in line behind the words “Black Lives Matter” on the field, the Raptors changed knees in unison between “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “O Canada,” a powerful message of solidarity.
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The reigning NBA champions had not played a meaningful game since a victory in Utah on March 9, just two days before the NBA closed under threat of COVID-19.
Almost five months later, playing under unprecedented conditions that include virtual fans and make noise in the NBA “bubble” at Walt Disney World, the Raptors have quickly made up for lost time.
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The Raptors pounced on the Lakers – who had edged the Clippers 103-101 in their opener two nights earlier – taking a 13-0 lead. But the Lakers fought back and Toronto led just 23-21 to finish the first quarter.
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LA took their first lead of the game early in the second, then took a 44-41 halftime lead in the low-scoring game between the league’s top two defensive teams.
Lowry’s reverse layup halfway through the third capped a 22-3 Raptors run that led them by 13. But the Lakers had sliced the Toronto advantage at 72-70 with a quarter to go.
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James, who Raptors coach Nick Nurse had said was like trying to stop a “freight train,” knocked down three straight runs early in the fourth, but Anunoby immediately responded with a pair of long. bombs.
Anunoby, who bounced back from the COVID-19 lockdown looking better than ever, pulled off a running robbery and dunk, then VanVleet called with a three to put Toronto out of 10 with five minutes to go.
Lowry drained a three on Kuzma’s outstretched hands with 3:01 left to put Toronto through 11, shouting animatedly at his teammates during the timeout that followed. The big bucket put the game out of reach.
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Saturday’s game was the first of eight games in the Raptors’ ranking round, with each of 22 teams playing in the NBA “bubble” at Walt Disney World. They will face Miami on Monday.
The arena images speak of those extraordinary times. Video panels from 300 virtual fans have replaced the crowded crowds Toronto is used to playing in front of. The Raptor mascot made a long-range appearance, waving his arms madly, virtually, from a basic video screen as James fired free throws.
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Reporting weeks after George Floyd’s murder sparked an American uprising – many NBA players protested in the days that followed – the NBA vowed the return of basketball would not be a distraction from justice issues racial and social.
They are at the forefront of the NBA restart. The two teams warmed up in black shirts with “Black Lives Matter”.
The majority of players have replaced their names on the back of their shirts with messages of racial and social justice, choosing from a few dozen drafted by the league.
© 2020 The Canadian Press