Absence of fans, Durant and Irving
Well for starters, let’s consider the fans, as a huge part of both the Toronto Raptors’ international identity and their enduring run of playoff success, Jurassic Park will fall silent for this postseason foray. The rambunctious scenes at Maple Leaf Square that we’ve all become accustomed to probably serve as the perfect example of what not to do during a global pandemic.
Also missing will be every player who took part in the two teams’ playoff series in 2013-14, save for Raptors points guard Kyle Lowry. The Nets team featured Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett and most notably, a 36-year-old Paul Pierce, who quickly turned being called a “dinosaur” by the Toronto Sun into motivation, averaging just under 30 minutes and 13.4 points throughout the series.
Ironically enough, part of the reason the Raptors are even playing the Nets in the first round of this year’s playoffs is due to what happened in last year’s NBA Finals. With the Golden State Warriors down 3-1 in the series, Kevin Durant infamously tried to play through a “calf injury” in Game 5 against the Raptors.
In what would end up being his last action in a Warriors uniform, Durant tore his Achilles while attempting a dribble-drive on Serge Ibaka, costing him his 2019-20 season. His talents were still highly sought after in the offseason, however, and he signed a four-year, $164 million contract with Brooklyn.
If Durant was fit to play this season, the Nets could have been right up there with the Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks fighting for the first seed in the Eastern Conference. However, that battle will have to wait until next year.
Also signing with the Nets in the offseason was Kyrie Irving. After relations soured between the six-time all-star and the Boston Celtics, the Duke product didn’t re-sign with the C’s as promised, instead opting to form a super-team in Brooklyn with Durant.
Irving started out hot with the Nets, even dropping 54 points against the Chicago Bulls early this season, but eventually a nagging shoulder issue became debilitating, and he underwent surgery in March. He will be watching from the sidelines, along with starting shooting guard Spencer Dinwiddie and centre DeAndre Jordan, who both tested positive for COVID-19, and subsequently opted out of the NBA’s restart.
Kawhi Leonard won’t be turning up for a very illegal run with his former team in a playoff game or anything (although he might be wishing he could). It’s worth noting though, because the series with Brooklyn will mark Toronto’s first playoff action without The Klaw since the 4-0 sweep at the hands of the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in 2018.