The energy was there, even though the late-game execution wasn’t.
After Toronto spent the better part of this week downplaying talk of the Brooklyn Nets deliberately trying to drop into the sixth spot to face them, they weren’t without confidence on Saturday afternoon.
Losing a close 94-87 decision to the Brooklyn Nets on Game 1 of the opening round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs, Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was asked if he was worried about disappointing Toronto fans.
“This is nowhere near disappointing,” Casey said. “We are a young team and we won the vision. We’re third in the conference. We’re going to fight our butts off to win this series. This does not identify us as far as who we are if we don’t come out on top. This is one game. This series is not over.”
Before the game even started, Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri joined the thousands of people standing in a packed Maple Leaf Square and got on the mic to thank them for coming out to support the team. Caught up in the moment, he finished his speech with an expletive.
Midway through the first half, news of Ujiri’s comments hit the Internet. Ujiri held a halftime media scrum to quickly apologize for the word choice in a public place with children present. He also said he didn’t mean any disrespect to the Nets and he was trying to get the crowd going.
Raptors players appreciated the support behind his sentiment.
“He’s a very passionate guy,” Kyle Lowry said. “He believes in what we have and what we’re doing and that’s what he is. He’s a passionate and very emotional guy.”
With Ujiri showing emotion for his team outside, the crowd inside the Air Canada Centre was just as vocal about their team. Standing, cheering and berating the officials throughout the game, the fan support was phenomenal.
Singing the national anthem before the game, passing a massive ‘We The North” flag along the lower 100-level of the arena and keeping up a vicious “KG Sucks” chant throughout the game, the mood in Air Canada Centre was electric despite the early tip-off time.
After a five-year wait for the postseason, the fans came out to show the Raptors their appreciation for the work and passion they’ve played with all season long.
“It was unbelievable,” Lowry said. “The atmosphere, the crowd, the intensity, the noise. We need that every night. I can tell you that the Brooklyn Nets were [saying], ‘Speak up, we can’t hear, it’s loud in here,’ so it definitely affected them a little bit.”
Vasquez, arriving in Toronto from Sacramento in December, was overwhelmed with the support from the Raptor faithful and wanted them to know the feeling is mutual.
“This is the best place to play,” Vasquez said. “This is amazing. Toronto is amazing. The fans are amazing. We love the fans. I know they’re going to stick with us and they’re going to support us no matter what. I said it before even the series started, during the season.”
While Brooklyn’s playoff experience helped them down the stretch in Game 1, the Raptors are ready to be on radar. TNT’s Steve Kerr tweeted that Toronto’s fan base is the East’s version of Golden State. With fans on their feet at Maple Leaf Square for hours to watch the game, it’s easy to see why Ujiri felt the need to greet and join in their excitement. It’s been awhile since the Raptors were on the radar, but they’ve returned in a big way.