The Raptors made their statement before their game against the Celtics even began.
And it had nothing really to do with the eventual outcome, a 122-100 Boston victory that sure felt like one of those “Let’s get to the darn playoffs” game from start to finish.
The entire Raptors party walked into the arena in Orlando wearing “Because of You” shirts as part of an organizational tribute to Wayne Embry, their own way of continuing conversations about the great Black trailblazers in the sport.
“I thought it was awesome that we were able to honour him tonight,” Fred VanVleet told us on the old zoom machine after the game. “He’s done so much for the game, so much for the culture, so much for our society you know, one of the trailblazers and one of the guys that people will look back and see kind of paved the way for what our game is today.”
Embry was the first Black NBA general manager, the first Black team president and has been a special advisor – as well as an interim GM here – for more than a decade.
His wife, Terri, marched on Selma with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Wayne’s been a beacon for civil rights his whole life. He is a living history lesson.
“I think he’s been a big voice from a couple standpoints,” Nurse said. “One is … I think a lot of our own eyes and ears have been opened a little bit more, and our players’ have been too. For them to, now, get to talk to him, and for us to tell them, ‘these are the things that Wayne Embry did. These are the situations.’
“I think it just hits home a little more now with the change in landscape for the team.”
The tribute was the first of many planned by the Raptors for different icons this year.
The phrase “Because of you” was part of an inscription U.S. president Barack Obama put on a picture to the late civil rights icon and American congressman John Lewis, who passed away last month.
“One of our members of our leadership team came up with this fantastic idea to honour some living legends that did some historic things,” Nick Nurse told us before the game. “And Wayne Embry, right in our own organization, was one of those … I think it’s fitting because we got Masai Ujiri, you know, as a team president as well, and that’s kind of symbolic for Masai to say ‘because of you Wayne.’”
I’ve said this a hundred times already and I’m sure I’ll say it hundreds of times in the future: One of the great privileges of having this job is getting to know, getting to learn from, men like Wayne and so many others you’ll learn about in this “Because Of You” campaign.
And it’s a rather universal feeling, as Nick said.
“I just want to say personally that I’ve never had an uncomfortable moment with Wayne. He’s a true joy to see and be around and talk to for me, either in person or on the phone or via text.
“He’s just a warm, genuine, great leader, gives me great advice, makes me feel comfortable, always encouraging, and I just really, really enjoy Mr. Embry, and I’m really proud to be wearing this shirt, and I’m really proud of the organization for having this night.”
And maybe starting something.
“We’re hoping that some other teams pick up on some of the other great historic leaders in the NBA and roll out a similar night of recognition for somebody as great as Wayne,” Nurse said.
Now, the game.
Dog days in the bubble?
Maybe because there really wasn’t a lot of zip from either team and the Raptors looked most of the night that they were standing still.
The shooting was woeful – 10-for-38 from three point range for Toronto – but that’s going to come and go and it’s not really a cause of great concern.
It was being a step slow on both ends of the floor, the ball movement was non-existent for a lot of the game that was truly uncharacteristic.
There was really noting to be taken away from the game except that Toronto has to play better and there’s no reason to think they won’t.
“The only thing I probably did learn is we’ve got to get a couple of our guys playing a little better,” Nick told us on the Zoom. “I’m not really concerned about some of the main guys, but there’s a couple 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, just need to get them a little more confident, have things go their way a little bit more.”
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Tough little fellas
Anyone who’s spent any time watching the Raptors knows the folly of teams trying to post up Kyle Lowry and thinking a bigger body will score on him with ease on the block.
Last night a couple of times the Celtics found out it’s more than just him.
Late in the first quarter, Boston had Jayson Tatum on the post being guarded one on one by Fred VanVleet and you just knew they figured a bucket was coming.
Fred got up and into him, wouldn’t let himself get backed down and forced Tatum into an airball.
I don’t know there’s a better small backcourt at defending bigger than they are than Lowry and VanVleet anywhere in the NBA.
Rough night, again
For Pascal Siakam, that is.
Brutal shooting night – 5-for-15 from the floor, 1-for-5 from three point range – and he’s really not had a standout game since the seeding games began.
Again, there’s no huge worry but he is dribbling a wee bit too much in the post, I think; the Dirk one-legged fadeway looks good but it’s not his best shot and he really hasn’t been getting out and beating people down the floor in transition.
I know Jaylen Brown’s a tough defender for him to beat but he’s got to. He sure didn’t take it to him Friday.
All right, may as well take this last chance to see if there’s anything on your mind that might fill out tomorrow’s mailbag.
If there is, drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll see what we can do. Can’t promise it’ll be up at the crack of dawn because I don’t expect to be but it’ll be there long before the Marc Gasol-Jonas Valanciunas matinee performance.