TORONTO, Canada, Jun 10 – With the Toronto Raptors on the brink of a historic NBA title, excitement is building across Canada ahead of Monday’s potentially decisive fifth game of the NBA Finals.
Two road victories gave the Raptors a 3-1 edge in the best-of-seven series against the defending champion Golden State Warriors and they can become the first NBA champions from outside the United States with a triumph Monday.
A team whose motto is “We The North” might need a change to “We The Champs” if the Raptors win the first crown in their 24-year history and dethrone a dynasty seeking a third consecutive crown and a fourth in five seasons.
Some Raptors supporters have been lining up and camping out all weekend to get into the “Jurassic Park” outdoor watch party area over three blocks on the west side of Scotiabank Arena.
“We’ve been embracing it this whole time,” Raptors star Kawhi Leonard said. “Just enjoying the support and the energy they’re bringing to the team.”
Similar outdoor big screen viewing parties on the Atlantic Coast in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the western plains in Regina, Saskatchewan, were featured on NBA telecasts.
Streets around the arena will be closed early Monday as security tightens around the event.
Cheers of “Let’s Go Raptors” echoed across the course at the PGA Canadian Open, where winner Rory McIlroy could not even get to his trophy before a fan had thrown him a Raptors jersey.
It’s the biggest sporting excitement for a Toronto team since the 1992 and 1993 World Series champion Toronto Blue Jays.
And while nothing will overtake the love of ice hockey as an iconic part of Canadian culture, there hasn’t been a Canadian winner of the Stanley Cup since the 1993 Montreal Canadiens.
The passionate support for the Raptors, signs in windows and people in jerseys across Toronto, is a stark contrast to the level keel and matter-of-fact attitude the players have kept as they refuse to celebrate before reaching the goal of a title.
“We know it’s a big deal and we know that it means a lot to the country,” said Raptors forward Pascal Siakam of Cameroon. “What helped us is just staying together and understanding our goal and just focusing on the game. The rest, you can’t control that.
“We got to focus on the game. We can’t think about the big picture of everything, so that’s what we’re going to try to do every time we’re out there on the floor.”
Still, Raptors center Marc Gasol, a Spaniard, says the team is able to get a boost from the emotional energy supporters have been sending for months.
“It’s a good feeling. That kind of excitement, it’s a positive energy,” Gasol said. “Everyone has bumps and bruises and has some active issue physically, so that encouragement and that passion makes you feel a little better.”
– ‘Still got work to do’ –
Raptors guard Kyle Lowry is thrilled the team can evoke such emotion and devotion, but it’s not something the Raptors can let themselves enjoy yet.
“I understand where they’re coming from,” Lowry said. “We want them to be excited. We want them to be happy. We want them to be energetic. But we still got work to do.”
Raptors guard Danny Green says a healthy respect for the Warriors, who are the first team in more than half a century to play in a fifth consecutive final, keeps players from losing their cool.
“It comes with experience. It comes with IQ,” Green said. “It comes with knowing that we haven’t accomplished anything yet.
“It comes with appropriate fear of knowing what that team is capable of.”