The Toronto Raptors were about three-quarters of the way through their first practice since the league’s decision to resume playoff games when head coach Nick Nurse felt his team was mentally where they needed to be for their Game 1 matchup against Boston on Sunday afternoon.
“That makes me feel better because we were about the same way,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Everybody is human. That is a challenge; there’s no question about it.”
The Milwaukee Bucks deciding to not play in their Game 5 matchup against Orlando on Thursday set off a series of team boycotts that led to the postponement of playoff games Thursday and Friday in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake, who is paralyzed after a Kenosha, Wis., police officer shot him seven times in the back.
Since the boycott, players have been involved in several conversations with themselves as well as with NBA owners on how to work more closely together to better address the repeated shootings of Black people by police officers. They've also discussed plans to create increased civic engagement going forward as part of their big-picture goal, which is to bring about systemic change for a more equitable treatment for all American citizens.
All of those issues have been on the forefront of many players' minds, making it all the more challenging to compartmentalize those feelings and emotions from the job at hand, which for the Celtics involves preparing for their Eastern Conference semifinal Game 1 matchup against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday afternoon.
Boston’s Jaylen Brown, one of the more outspoken voices in the discussions in recent days among NBA players, acknowledges finding that balance is challenging “but necessary.”
“We all are athletes who came down here to play basketball,” Brown said. “But in the same sense, we have stuff that’s important to us; trying to balance both and having conversations and meetings and things like that, is part of it.
Brown added, “I’m proud of our guys for some of the unification that we’ve shown over the last couple of days.”
Jayson Tatum also acknowledged that for him and many players, focusing on basketball has not been a top priority in light of all the various conversations and issues that players are trying their best to ensure remain topics heavily discussed both inside and outside the Bubble.
“It’s been a lot to process over this last week or so,” Tatum said.
The 22-year-old Tatum is not the most loquacious member of the Celtics squad. But at this time, on these matters, his voice has been among the louder ones inside the team’s locker room.
“Just like everybody else, a lot of emotions, a lot of feelings,” Tatum said. “Just tired of it. Just knowing that the voice and platform that I and a number of other guys have, to speak on things that a lot of other people feel and aren’t in a position to be heard like we are.”