TORONTO – When Nick Nurse sat down at his post-practice media availability on Friday, a reporter remarked “Nice hat.”
The Raptors coach was wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs cap, a gift he said was from his Leafs counterpart Mike Babcock.
“Mike left me a little bit of Leafs swag in my office the other night and wished me luck in the playoffs so I thought I would rep them today,” Nurse said.
The two will be cheering one another as a super Saturday hits Toronto sports. The Raptors tip off the playoffs when they host the Orlando Magic. Then the Leafs hit the ice in Boston to play Game 2 of their series on a day that also features Blue Jays and Toronto FC games — the baseball team is home to 2018 Cy Young winner Blake Snell and the Tampa Bay Rays, while the soccer squad is in Seattle for a rematch of the 2016 and ’17 MLS Cups.
Nurse said he watched the Leafs’ 4-1 victory in Game 1 on Thursday.
“I thought they were great last night,” the coach said.
Babcock was asked in Boston if he had a message for the Raptors.
“Good luck,” the coach said. “Good luck, play hard, have fun.”
Saturday marks the first time the four Toronto teams have all played on the same day since April 25 of 2018.
That night, the Leafs lost Game 7 of a first-round series in Boston, the Raptors won Game 5 of a first-round series against the visiting Washington Wizards, TFC lost in penalties on the road in the CONCACAF Champions League final against Chivas Guadalajara, and the Blue Jays lost to the Boston Red Sox at the Rogers Centre.
“When one or two teams in the city are picking up the slack and (having) success, I think it gives the rest of the major organizations in the city something. It adds to the experience for all of them,” Blue Jays reliever Joe Biagini said Friday before his team’s game against Tampa Bay.
“A guy in the elevator told me we were all playing on the same day. Wow, what a day. That’s like the quadfecta of Toronto sports.”
Playoff expectations are high for both the Raptors and the Leafs, but perhaps more so for the city’s NBA team in light of the NHL’s more difficult playoff system.
With a championship appearance in mind, the Raptors rebuilt in the off-season after they were ousted for the third straight season at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Coach Dwane Casey was fired, and DeMar DeRozan was jettisoned for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, both NBA champions with the San Antonio Spurs.
Toronto Mayor John Tory declared Saturday as “Toronto Raptors Day” and Monday, when the Leafs play Game 3 at home, as “Blue and White Day.”
“It’s not new,” Tory said of the city’s two playoff teams. “They’ve been making the playoffs now for several years. But the bottom line is this is a year I know people are particularly excited. Why? Because we have a team in the case of the Raptors that has more playoff experience on its roster than ever before and we have a team in the case of the Leafs that is so young and so fast and we saw what a great start they got off to (Thursday) night.”
Tory also mentioned golfer Corey Conners as “somebody we can adopt as a near Torontonian.”
Conners, a native of Listowel, Ont., was just four shots off the pace after the opening round of the Masters in Augusta, Ga.
Thousands of fans pack Maple Leafs Square outside Scotiabank Arena to watch both the Raptors and Leafs play on the enormous screen that stretches across one wall of the building, a tradition that started in 2014 when the Raptors ended a five-year playoff drought with a series against the Brooklyn Nets in the opening round. The Raptors lost that entertaining series 4-3.
— with files from Joshua Clipperton and Melissa Couto.
© 2019 The Canadian Press