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Bubble vs. Reality: Considering the whole picture for the Raptors

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It was a pretty solid week for the Raptors, with three wins in the Bubble, including an exciting unlikely comeback. But now we have to reflect and do some more serious work.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Philadelphia 76ers Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

And just like that, the restarted NBA regular season is almost over. The Raptors played the bulk of their summer schedule over the past week — a total of four games, with victories in three of them. They’ve got one more contest to look forward to, as it were, a showdown with the Nuggets on Friday. Still, Toronto is locked into the East’s two-seed now and are all set to play the Brooklyn Nets in the first round, which starts on August 17.

As goes tradition for my Thursday column series, we’ll wrap up Bubble vs. Reality here, before the crush of the playoffs absorbs all our time and attention. It’s something we’ve been grappling with ever since this NBA restart was first announced. And I’m sorry to say that once we get down to the game-every-other-day mentality of the playoffs, with the rounds coming fast and furious, and the Raptors making a concerted drive to go all the way, Bubble life may very well dominate.

So, like the quick end to the regular season, let’s go through the end of Bubble vs. Reality — and remember some of the other topics we tried to address here.

Bubble

The Raptors’ win on Wednesday night against Philadelphia was just about the ideal of what Toronto basketball is about these days. In the first half, Kyle Lowry got fired up and decided to get his team back into the game after they’d fallen behind. Then, win or lose, the team’s starters and main reserves took a backseat, allowing the deep bench unit — all the way down to Toronto’s 17th man — to get some run.

The game should have been over. The Sixers were up by 10 with six or so minutes to go in the fourth quarter. They were also playing with a couple of actual rotation-adjacent players (Mike Scott, Furkan Korkmaz, and Raul Neto). The Raptors, meanwhile, were putting the ball in Stanley Johnson’s hands and asking him to initiate the team’s offense — which included three players (Malcolm Miller, Paul Watson, Dewan Hernandez) who have barely played at all this season. If Toronto had gone on to lose, we would have just shrugged and said, well, not much to be done with all that.

Instead, as I wrote here, the Raptors somehow executed a comeback with their star players going absolutely bezerk on the bench. While Johnson and Dewan and Watson were heroically bringing the team back, there was Lowry, with Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell and the rest of the main squad losing it on the sidelines in excitement. It was still a meaningless game for Toronto, but try telling that to Johnson as he ran back to the bench to celebrate his game-winning bucket.

Now, I forgot to mention in last night’s recap that this game was also assistant Adrian Griffin’s first victory as a head coach. Before the game, it was announced that Nick Nurse would take the night off (he was masked and nearby instead), allowing Griffin to call the shots — and collect the win. For an organization to talk about statements like Black Lives Matter, it counts for something to put Black people in positions like that to succeed and excel.

The celebratory joy didn’t quite make it through 24 hours however.

Reality

This is a sensitive matter, so I’m going to try to just report on what has happened online today and keep speculation to a minimum. Roughly four hours ago, Audrey Griffin, the ex-wife of Adrian Griffin, tweeted the following:

This tweet has been circulating around Raptors Twitter now and obviously follow-up questions are being asked. It remains unlikely that Griffin will make any snap statements about this. (The mention of a “court order” in Audrey’s text suggests legal proceedings in some shape or form are already ongoing, which adds to the “no comment” reasoning.) The allegations here are serious though, and they will likely require at the very least some sort of inquiry — and/or statement — from the Raptors organization. Right now, I don’t know if we’ll get that, or anything else in public.

Obviously, this is all extremely distressing to read. It is also a direct challenge to the principles we’re trying to hold strong to here, the ones we’ve been tweeting about before every game as members of Raptors media and believers in the fight for equality in our society. As others have pointed out, Black Lives Matter as a rallying cry and political stance means all Black lives — men, yes, but also the lives of Black women and Black trans people too. It means we need to listen to those voices, and believe them.

So while we were applauding the success of Griffin last night, and patting the Raptors on the back for putting him in a prominent position to grow his career, we now have to take a step back and ask some difficult questions. And, as inconvenient or unfortunte or ill-timed or whatever adjective you want to add here, we also have to hope that justice is done.