Players kneel before an NBA basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Toronto Raptors, Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, Pool)

Raptors kneel for both American and Canadian anthems ahead of tipoff

Majority of players have substituted their names on the backs of their jerseys with racial and social justice messages

Kyle Lowry poured in 33 points and a career-high 14 rebounds to lead the Toronto Raptors to victory in their opening game of the NBA restart on a night that was bigger than basketball.

Playing their first meaningful game in 145 days, and in a world that’s drastically changed in the time since, the Raptors beat the Los Angeles Lakers 107-92.

OG Anunoby had 23 points, while Pascal Siakam added 15 and Fred VanVleet chipped in with 13 points in a game many were touting as a potential NBA Finals preview.

LeBron James, who was singing along to O Canada when the camera panned past him, had 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Kyle Kuzma added 16 points.

The NBA’s restart is unprecedented. The stakes, on several levels, are huge. Emotions are running high — and it was obvious from the night’s pre-game ceremonies.

The Raptors and Lakers kneeled for both anthems. Linking arms in a line behind the words “Black Lives Matter” on the court, the Raptors changed knees in unison between “The Star-Spangled Banner” and ”O Canada,” a powerful message of togetherness.

The reigning NBA champions hadn’t played a meaningful game since a victory in Utah on March 9, just two days before the NBA shuttered under the threat of COVID-19.

Nearly five months later, playing in unprecedented conditions that include virtual fans and piped in noise in the NBA’s “bubble” at Walt Disney World, the Raptors quickly made up for lost time.

The Raptors pounced on the Lakers — who’d edged the Clippers 103-101 in their opener two nights earlier — taking a 13-0 lead. But the Lakers replied and Toronto led just 23-21 to end the first quarter.

L.A. took its first lead of the game early in the second, then took a 44-41 lead into the halftime break in the low-scoring game between the league’s top two defensive teams.

Lowry’s reverse layup midway through the third capped a 22-3 Raptors run that had them up by 13. But the Lakers had sliced Toronto’s advantage to 72-70 with one quarter to play.

James, who Raptors coach Nick Nurse had said was like trying to stop a “freight train,” knocked down back-to-back three-pointers early in the fourth, but Anunoby immediately replied with a pair of long bombs.

Anunoby, who’s rebounded from the COVID-19 lockdown looking better than ever, had a steal and running dunk, then VanVleet followed it up with a three to put Toronto up by 10 with five minutes to play.

Lowry drained a three over the outstretched hands of Kuzma with 3:01 to play to put Toronto up by 11, hollering animatedly to his teammates during the ensuing timeout. The big bucket put the game all but out of reach.

Saturday’s game was the Raptors’ first of eight seeding-round matchups each of the 22 teams are playing in the NBA’s “bubble” at Walt Disney World. They face Miami on Monday.

The arena images speak of these extraordinary times. Video boards of 300 virtual fans have replaced the jam-packed crowds Toronto is accustomed to playing in front of. The Raptor mascot made a long-distance appearance, waving his arms madly, virtually, from a baseline video screen while James shot free throws.

Tipping off weeks after the killing of George Floyd sparked an American uprising — numerous NBA players marched in protests in the days that followed — the NBA vowed that the return of basketball wouldn’t be a distraction from racial and social justice issues.

They’re front and centre at the NBA’s restart. Both teams warmed up in black shirts with “Black Lives Matter.”

The majority of players have substituted their names on the backs of their jerseys with racial and social justice messages, picking from a couple dozen drawn up by the league.

The Canadian Press

NBA

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