Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse calls a play during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies Saturday, May 8, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris O'Meara

Raptors coach Nurse reflects on bizarre season rocked by displacement and COVID-19

Raptors coach Nurse reflects on bizarre season rocked by displacement and COVID-19

Two years after their thrilling run to the Larry O’Brien Trophy, this Toronto Raptors season will also go down as one of the most memorable in history — but for all the wrong reasons.

The Raptors were officially eliminated from a spot in the NBA’s post-season play-in tournament on Monday with the Indiana Pacers’ 111-102 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

After a season playing in Tampa, Fla., as the only team playing outside of its market this season, and a COVID-19 outbreak in March that saw them nosedive down the conference standings, the Raptors will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

With four games left in a bizarre regular season, Raptors coach Nick Nurse preferred not to look back on the numerous challenges tossed at his team and what he learned from how they handled them.

“I’m not sure I’m kind of ready to dig into that quite yet,” he said after Monday’s practice. “My mind is not quite there yet. We’ve talked about it a bunch: What did we learn? Well, things can get really bad and adverse and somehow you’ve got to keep picking yourself up and getting yourself rejuvenated and bringing positivity and keep coaching and all those things.”

Because of Canada’s border restrictions around COVID-19, the Raptors were forced to move to Tampa for the season, playing their “home” games at Amalie Arena, normally home to the NHL’s Lightning.

A far cry from the jam-packed crowds of 20,000 at Scotiabank Arena they’re used to, some nights it’s tough to tell which team the sparse (due to COVID restrictions) crowd is cheering for. Pascal Siakam was booed during late-game free throw attempts last week.

Not overly surprising for a team that had to juggle finding housing in Tampa with games and practices, the Raptors got off to a shaky 2-8 start to the season, but they ended February in the thick of the playoff race at 17-17.

March was a month the Raptors would’ve liked to have ripped off the calendar and tossed.

A COVID-19 outbreak sidelined a good chunk of the Raptors roster, including key players Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby, plus the majority of coaches. They struggled after their returned to find their form after illness and quarantine measures. And then VanVleet (hip) and Kyle Lowry (toe) suffered injuries that would bother them for weeks.

Nurse said this final stretch will be partly about evaluating and developing young players.

“There’s a couple of guys we’ll probably give some runs to that we want to see still a little bit more,” he said.

He’s “extremely optimistic” about next season.

“I think we’ve played some of the best teams maybe better than a lot of teams have, to be honest, and we’ve been missing a lot of pieces along here,” Nurse said. “I think we have an incredible group of talented young guys and we’ve got a group that’s growing day by day.”

The Raptors host their former star Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday, then visit Chicago on Thursday and Dallas on Friday before closing the regular season Sunday against visiting Indiana.

Asked if he’ll travel back to Toronto or to his hometown in Carroll, Iowa, after the season, Nurse said he and the Raptors management planned to stay in Tampa.

“We’re gonna operate still here from Tampa for a while, just with draft prep and exit interviews,” he said. “All that stuff will stay here. I don’t see any movement north for quite some time yet.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 10, 2021.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

NBA

Just Posted

A small selection of shoes line a step at the municipal government building in Sylvan Lake, with each pair representing a vicitm of residential schools in Canada. Tracey Greinke placed the first pair of shoes on the steps, hoping more would follow. (Photo by Megan Roth/Black Press news services)
Sylvan Lake woman sets up small memorial for residential school victims

Tracey Grienke placed a pair of moccasins on the steps of town hall, and a few more followed

A section of the eastern slopes south west of Longview, Alta., Wednesday, June 16, 2021. A new report finds big differences in how different governments have responded to Canada’s promise to increase the amount of land it protects. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
A for Quebec, F for Alberta: Study rates Canadian governments on conservation

Report by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony in memory of those killed during WWII as he takes part in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of Unknown Soldier in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, June 22, 2021, marking the 80th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Putin hails WWII heroes, warns of degrading Europe security

Kremlin anxious to see international recognition of wartime sacrifices and its role in defeating Nazis

FILE - In this May 19, 2021, file photo, mice scurry around stored grain on a farm near Tottenham, Australia. A mouse plague that has ravaged vast swathes of eastern Australia has forced the evacuation of a prison while authorities repair gnawed electrical wiring and clear dead and decaying mice from wall cavities and ceilings, Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin said on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, File)
Australian prison to be evacuated after mice move in

Plagues usually happen when rain follows several years of drought

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell looks at his papers as Belarusian opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, background left, talks to Cypriot Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides during a European Foreign Affairs Ministers meeting at the European Council building in Luxembourg, Monday, June 21, 2021. EU foreign ministers were set to approve Monday a new set of sanctions against scores of officials in Belarus and prepare a series of measures aimed at the country’s economy. (Johanna Geron/Pool Photo via AP)
EU, US, UK, Canada join forces to slap sanctions on Belarus

Asset freezes and travel bans also imposed

Black Horse Singers performed for students at Ecole la Prairie on Monday. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Students remind Red Deer that every child matters on National Indigenous Day

Heart-shaped messages to decorate trees at Ecole la Prairie through the summer

FILE - Canada’s Cyle Larin (17) scores past Haiti’s Josue Duverger, bottom left, during the second half of a World Cup qualifying soccer match Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in Bridgeview, Ill. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)
Toronto FC’s Zavaleta wastes little time settling in with El Salvador national team

Indiana-born Zavaleta qualifies for El Salvador through his father

Summer McIntosh swims her way to first place in the Women’s 800m Freestyle at the 2020 Olympic Swimming Trials in Toronto, Monday, June 21, 2021. McIntosh, who edged Rio Olympic star Penny Oleksiak in the 200-metre freestyle final a day earlier, picked up where she left off in the women’s 800-metre freestyle. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Summer Time: 14-year-old McIntosh wins again at Olympic swim trials

McIntosh will be one of the youngest athletes in Tokyo

This undated photo provided by Walt Disney World shows Disney characters at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Walt Disney World is planning an 18-month celebration in honor of its 50th anniversary, starting in October 2021. Disney announced Tuesday, June 22 that all four parks at the resort will take part in “The World’s Most Magical Celebration.” (Matt Stroshane/Walt Disney World via AP)
Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary party starts Oct. 1

Favorite Disney characters will be part of a collection of special golden sculptures at all four parks

Columnist Treena Mielke
Family: When rain cancels ball game

The wild roses are out, blooming in roadside ditches, their gentle beauty… Continue reading

Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson, center, tries to get position for a shot against New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) during the second period in Game 5 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 21, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Stamkos, Vasilevskiy pace Lightning’s 8-0 rout of Islanders

Lightning 8 Islanders 0 (Tampa Bay leads series 3-2) TAMPA, Fla. —… Continue reading

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says he’s ‘convinced’ the city will be able to get rid of the mandatory mask bylaw in July. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
‘Made in Calgary’ approach will keep mask requirements past Alberta’s total reopening

Calgary won’t be following provincial recommendations on the mandatory wearing of masks… Continue reading

Most Read