TORONTO – Maybe it was just a preseason game, but for the Toronto Raptors and their fans, Monday night’s preseason opener against the visiting Philadelphia 76ers was so much more.
The Raptors were finally home.
OG Anunoby scored 21 points to lead the Raptors 123-107 against the Sixers, a triumphant return in Toronto’s first game at Scotiabank Arena in 584 days.
Justin Champagnie added 17 points, while Scottie Barnes, Precious Achiuwa and Svi Mykhailiuk got 13 points each, and Yuta Watanabe finished with 10.
Andre Drummond led the Sixers with 19 points.
Only four players – Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and Chris Boucher – remain from the squad that last played in Toronto, a 99-96 loss to Charlotte on February 28, 2020 including head coach Nick Nurse remembers “absolutely nothing”.
Over the next 19 months, COVID-19 shut down the NBA. And then, due to border restrictions and health and safety protocols in Ontario, the Raptors were forced to call Tampa, Florida home last season, the only NBA team playing outside of its market. . While the team built a practice facility in two weeks in a Tampa Marriott ballroom, it wasn’t home.
Fans in their “home games” at the Amalie Arena most often cheered their opponents.
Finally back on the Scotiabank floor, did it sound like Tampa?
“Oh no, it’s different here,” Anunoby said. “Tampa was nice but it’s very different here… it’s just nice to come back.”
The Raptors open the regular season at home on Oct. 20 against the Washington Wizards. While crossing the border was a concern for American teams, Sixers coach Doc Rivers said “it was not difficult at all.”
“I like what they do, honestly,” he said. “You have to do the application and all that. Our guys were pretty easy with it. It’s certain. A few guys went to the restaurant (Sunday) evening and you have to show your (vaccination) card and I totally agree. Everyone felt safe so that’s good.
With 11 new faces in the camp, rebuilding the Raptors is a work in progress. There were times on Monday when fans cheered, including a blind pass from Barnes, the popular rookie draft No. 4 overall, to Watanabe, who finished with a dunk. Barnes flexed his muscles and smiled broadly in celebration.
Rookie Dalano Banton, who grew up in Toronto’s Rexdale and is the first Canadian to be drafted by the Raptors, was applauded for his rebound and bucket late in the third quarter.
Training camp and preseason is all about the fight for positions and playing time – and a lot of teaching for Nurse.
“They are doing well,” he said of his players’ position on the attack. “I didn’t do much and experimented a lot by moving them everywhere to all places.”
Monday’s festive crowd of 8,016 included Canadian swim star Penny Oleksiak. The Raptors were treated to 9,900 fans, which is half the arena’s capacity. It is not known if they will eventually be able to accommodate a full house, but the team is hopeful.
Some fans cheered as they passed through security and into the arena on Monday. Others stopped to take selfies.
Jodi Tomlinson and Andrey Breniov were among the first to take their seats. They said it had been a long time coming.
“We’ve been saying for a year and a half that as soon as they get home we have to be there,” said Tomlinson, wearing a number 7 Kyle Lowry jersey. His face mask was a photo of the former Raptors star from the 2019 NBA Championship parade. “We are both very moved to be here right now. It’s the Canada team, and welcoming them home… it’s not a preseason game for us.
A few nights earlier, Breniov had been glued to his “refreshing, refreshing, refreshing” phone in an attempt to buy tickets, Tomlinson said with a laugh. “He finally came down and yelled ‘We have tickets!’ And then we started to cry.
Breniov wore a powder blue and pink “Tampa Raptors” VanVleet No. 23 jersey, a Christmas present from Tomlinson last year.
“We’re big fans, and when they were in Florida we wanted to support them from home,” she said.
The Raptors have played without Siakam (shoulder surgery), Khem Birch (health and safety protocols), Gary Trent Jr. (quad injury) and Chris Boucher, who underwent surgery this weekend on his middle finger. left dislocated. Boucher should be missed for up to four weeks.
The Raptors led 28-25 after the first quarter and, thanks in large part to Champagnie’s 10 points in the second, extended their lead to 67-54 at halftime.
Anunoby had 12 points in the third and Toronto took a 100-77 advantage in the fourth.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on October 4, 2021.
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