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Nurse says Raptors can draw on experience of bouncing back from bad games

The morning after their biggest loss of the season, the Toronto Raptors were angry.

The morning after their biggest loss of the season, the Toronto Raptors were angry.

The Raptors dropped a 112-94 decision to the Boston Celtics in the opening game of their Eastern Conference semifinal series — Toronto's fourth loss to Boston in five meetings this season — and the mood at Monday's practice was "not good," said coach Nick Nurse.

"We're not happy and we're a little pissed off and we should be. We're not proud of anything we did (Sunday)," Nurse said. "You've got to kind of live through that, right? You've got to live through that until you get another chance for the ball to go up and try to ride it."

Can anger be a good thing ahead of Tuesday's Game 2?

"I'd much rather be holding hands and skipping rope after a win, but this is where we find ourselves," Nurse said.

A big plus, Nurse pointed out, is that the Raptors have proven they're capable of quickly flushing a loss. They traditionally bounce back well after a bad game. The Raptors had a pair of three-game losing skids this season, plus lost back-to-back games just one other time.

In last season's historic playoff run, the Raptors lost their opener to a weaker Orlando team only to roar back to win four straight in what Nurse has said was the turning point of the entire post-season.

"Our mood today doesn't affect (Tuesday) much, it's when the ball goes up that we'll find out what we're going to be like," Nurse said. "We usually do bounce back though. We're a team that's bounced back a lot, so hopefully our historical reference will matter."

Monday marked the first day players could see their families, who recently checked into the NBA campus at Walt Disney World. The Raptors travelled to Florida in late June, so haven't seen their families in more than two months.

"Just excited," said guard Fred VanVleet, who has two kids with partner Shontai Neal, a daughter Sanaa and son Fred Jr., who was born during last year's conference finals.  

"I miss my family. Family is huge for me. I think the last time I saw them was Father's Day (June 22). It will be good to see everybody. And right on time after getting our butts kicked, so that'll kind of take my mind off of it for a little bit, and then I'll get prepared and get locked in for the game."

Raptors centre Marc Gasol said he and his wife decided that she and their two kids wouldn't travel to Florida to live in the bubble.

The Raptors were soundly beaten on both ends of the floor Sunday, a step behind on the defensive end and out of synch on offence. Boston outscored Toronto 51-30 on three-point shots.

Nurse said his team simply wasn't running hard.  

"It was like we were playing uphill both directions," he said. "We weren't running hard back, we weren't running hard forward. We weren't cutting hard. There was a speed and energy problem that I think was — it was a physical problem, which I think was created by our mental state, which wasn't right."

Toronto's all-star guard Kyle Lowry, who led the team with 17 points, spoke after the game about how the emotional events around the league's three-day shutdown, after the Wisconsin shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, weighed heavily on the team.

"(But) we just didn't play well," he said. "We didn't play well enough to win the basketball game and no excuses made, we've got to play hard, we've got to go out there and do our jobs harder, do our coverages harder, execute better.

Nurse said the Raptors are in trouble if they can't bounce back Tuesday night.

"We've certainly been punched squarely in the nose and we've got to stand up and either start playing, playing better, or not, and that's kind of where we are." 

The Raptors had an uncharacteristically awful start Sunday, digging themselves an early 22-point hole that was too big to climb out of.

"We just didn't play good," VanVleet said. "Sometimes it's that simple.

"We weren't moving fast enough, weren't playing hard enough, didn't make enough shots, didn't execute the gameplan. Like, you name it, we didn't do it. Didn't take care of the ball. And then before you know it, it's a big lead there in the first (quarter). I thought we played well enough the rest of the game but it was never good enough to get back going."

Gasol said a plus of being in the bubble is being around teammates all day every day. There's no ducking conversations after a bad game.

"But at the end of day, look at yourself in the mirror. That to me is the ultimate test. Did you give it your best? are you executing what you need to execute? Are you working as hard as you can for your teammates, are you doing everything you can?

"The only one that eventually knows that is yourself and that's why I like the mirror so much. You have to face that guy." 

Game 3 will be played Thursday, and Game 4 is scheduled for Saturday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2020.

Lori Ewing , The Canadian Press