Contempt of court riles some players
DOUG SMITH SPORTS REPORTER
Malachi Flynn crossed from the shiny black panel of the fancy new Raptors court to the grey portion when his feet slid out from beneath him.
He went careening to the floor — not unlike a baserunner finishing a steal with a nice hook slide — and still managed to flip a pass to teammate Jalen McDaniels, who finished the play with a basket.
It was in the final minute of the first quarter of Toronto’s first game in the NBA’s much-hyped in-season tournament, and it was when the first eyebrows might have raised about the realities of the new playing surface.
Hours later, after the Boston Celtics had completed a 108-105 victory over the gold-clad Raptors, the harshest criticism of the surface came to light. It was couched in the reality of the times — the desire to turn a new venture into a boon for the entire league, at a time in the season when it could use a boost — but it also hit home that all was not particularly well. Not in Scotiabank Arena, at least.
“I think we all, as players, are all here for the in-season tournament because it’s going to generate revenue, excitement, competition, but we’ve got to make sure the court is safe to play on,” Boston’s Jaylen Brown said. “We can’t put our players out there and risk their health. Tonight, I thought the floor was unacceptable. I think guys were slipping all over the place, not just me.”
To be fair, it’s not like the court comprised a couple of panels of
black ice that imperilled players from the opening tip. At no time did the officiating crew stop play to have any portion of the court mopped up or treated in any fashion, and there weren’t dozens of incidents of players falling.
Still, the complaints were legitimate and concerning, and not limited to just Brown or other members of the visiting team.
“It was slippery. I fell myself a few times, a couple of times I ended up on the floor,” Toronto’s Precious Achiuwa said. “(The Celtics were) saying the same thing at the end of the game. I think somebody probably got hurt on the other side.”
Achiuwa, who has missed five of Toronto’s first 12 games with a groin issue, is acutely aware of what serious problems even a little slip might create.
“I missed the majority of the season coming back,” he said. “I’m extra cautious. Ending up on the floor is kind of like, ‘OK, I’m checking myself. I’m trying to make sure everything is intact.’
“At the end of the day, I just want to hoop. The extra stuff is extra.”
But the “extra stuff” is what the tournament is all about: added-value looks and feels, and a $500,000 (U.S.) prize to every member of the championship team.
Central to that is a desire to give the games, which are also part of the 82-game season, a different image for the fans to devour.
The multicoloured courts — designed specifically for a maximum of three games in each arena in the span of a month — are, along with different uniforms, the most obvious manifestation of that desired difference.
The Raptors and the league are well aware of the complaints lodged by Brown and Achiuwa in group media sessions that got widespread play after the game Friday and through Saturday on social media sites.
Toronto’s next home game with its new court is Friday against the Chicago Bulls. Whether there’s a way to toughen up the surface, or whether it’s more broken in after one game’s use, will be dealt with in the intervening week.
How serious any tweaks might be is unknown, and it’s not like everyone who played Friday trashed the surface.
“I think it was OK,” Raptor Pascal Siakam said. “At the end of the day, these courts are different for everyone. Players are not used to it. It’s different for different shoes. It’s a variety of things.
“It’s everywhere, so it’s got to be something we figure out as players, or they figure out on the other side. But I don’t think I slipped (Friday).”
And after the tournament winds up with the championship game in Las Vegas on Dec. 9, league officials will begin the serious business of debriefing and finding out what needs to be tweaked. There was always going to be a period of reckoning and some change coming after the first iteration of a project trumpeted so loudly and consistently by commissioner Adam Silver.
As Brown said, the tournament can serve a valuable purpose in generating revenue and interest, and all sides can see that.
But player safety has to be paramount, and the first order of business is getting uniform standards for the playing surface.
Toronto Star Newspapers Limited