In any other season, the Toronto Raptors would be in Boston preparing to play for their playoff lives in front of a rowdy Celtics crowd at TD Garden.
But this isn’t any other season.
While the NBA attempted to create a “home” environment in the NBA bubble in Florida, it has largely fallen flat. Teams that worked hard in the regular season to secure home court for the playoffs have no advantage. At Walt Disney World, it’s tough to determine which team is home and which is away.
“I don’t think (we’re) heading for rocket science territory if we say this is the most strange playoffs ever,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said Tuesday, on the eve of Toronto’s do-or-die Game 6 versus the Celtics.
“It has been a strange series with the way the games have been played, but everything’s been abnormal, right? Almost forgot we were the home team (Monday) night, I think if I’m not mistaken, the quote-unquote road team has won every game in this series, right?”
For Toronto, home court has meant fans dressed mostly in red. “Defence!” — rather than “Defense!” with the American spelling — has flashed across the giant video screens.
That little bit hasn’t help as the Raptors are 0-3 against Boston in their home games.
There’s no making up for Scotiabank Arena, which boasts one of the best fan bases in the league. Or Jurassic Park, where thousands of fans would’ve lined up for hours to squeeze into Maple Leaf Square outside the arena to watch the game on the giant screen.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens agreed that home and road “doesn’t mean anything here.
“It’s nice to have the backgrounds and all that other stuff but, to be honest with you, I can’t even hear any of it or really pay much attention to it after maybe the starting lineups are announced, which are odd anyways because there’s nobody clapping,” Stevens said with a laugh.
“It is unique.”
Since there’s no fans in the arena outside the few family members that recently joined players, conversations between players are more obvious. There was a heated exchanged in Monday night’s loss between Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka.
Lowry had fouled Jayson Tatum and sent him to the line. Lowry argued with the ref and picked up a technical, prompting Ibaka to yell “Come on man, we’re losing!”
Fred VanVleet stepped in to calm Ibaka down.
“Kyle had his moment with the ref. Serge had his moment with Kyle. But we moved on, we moved past it. It happens. We’re brothers,” VanVleet said. “It’s a lot at stake.”
The guard said the empty bubble atmosphere amplified the incident.
“Those frustrations happen all the time,” VanVleet said. “You guys don’t see a lot of them. But that was one that was obviously visible and you could probably hear a little bit there if you were in the arena. Just some frustrations with the game.”
VanVleet said it was also strange to be on a Zoom media availability while the entire Celtics team walked past.
Is this the new normal?
“I hope not. I hope not. You know personally speaking from what I know, I like the guys (on the Celtics) but right now I hate them. I don’t want to see them. I don’t want to look at them. I don’t want to talk to them so yeah, it’s a little weird,” VanVleet said. ”But this is where we’re at.”
Home-ice advantage also hasn’t been a big factor in the NHL’s post-season, played in front of no fans in Toronto and Edmonton this year.
In the recently completed second round, home teams went 11-15, including losses in two of the three Game 7s.
Goal songs for both teams have been played, regardless of which squad is the home team.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 8, 2020.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press