General. It felt normal.
And after months and months and months of very unusual times, in life and in sports, Monday night was just about normal for the Raptors and their fans.
No, the Scotiabank Arena wasn’t full, and yes it was only an NBA pre-season game, but the ease with which the whole thing got back to normal was impressive and a breath of fresh air with the regular season just two weeks away.
“To stay away for so long sounds all the more familiar, it really does,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse after Toronto’s capture of Philadelphia 123-107.
“We tried to make the best of it in Tampa, and thought we were fine. But now that we look back, it certainly looks like it was probably a little harder than we thought it was down to. “
In keeping with public health restrictions, fans – attendance was announced at 8,016 – seemed simply delighted to be able to see the Raptors in person for the first time since February 2020.
He was fed the usual steady regimen of timeout music and dancing and the in-game hosts implored him to do it “out loud”, but the feeling was that he would have done it anyway.
After seeing the Raptors finish the 2019-20 season in the Orlando Bubble and were forced to play the entire 2020-21 season out of Tampa, they wanted the organization home and pumped before the starting tip. were done.
“I say that definitely feels good to be back. There is a buzz, a level of comfort, an energy that I think translates from the crowd to the players,” Nurse said.
“It feels good. I keep saying the same thing: It sounds a lot better than I thought… It adds a little extra to the juice that is in the building that helps us.”
The Raptors have a well-earned reputation as one of the best in the horde league, a fact even opponents have acknowledged.
“I feel like I’m sucking up to Toronto right now, and I don’t want to say that, but I just love the fans and they just have this different energy,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said before the game.
“You think it’s the hockey kind of energy, like the crowd is in the game. And I just love how they approach the games, I do. Around the league, to the fans, just in duration. it’s good to be back. “
There are only four players on this current iteration of the team – Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Ozzy Anunobi and Chris Boucher – who were the Raptors when the team set off on a road trip in late February 2020, and a handful of players who’ d never appeared at the Scotiabank Arena in a home uniform, which provided all the on-court energy.
A backup group of Scotty Barnes, Yuta Watanabe, Dalano Banton, Justin Chapagni and Swee Mykhailuk turned the game around with a great second quarter that set the Raptors on their way.
The most energetic person might have been Barnes, a kid who had never been in the building before Monday.
He blasted out of the tunnel for the pre-game warmup and scuttled the start of the layup line with his enthusiasm, and nearly got bowled over teammate Goran Dragic during the player’s introduction.
He sighed and shook and nearly leveled Watanabe while celebrating the first quarter basket.
His spirit belie the fact that it was the first of many, many, many games between now and the end of the season.
Barnes had a game, too.
Not much should be read in the figures for the exhibition opener against the Sixers team, which sat out regulars Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris – and without Ben Simmons, hoping for a trade – but Barnes had There were 13 points, nine rebounds and six assists while playing. Four different positions in 25 minutes.
“There is nothing different from what we are saying or seeing,” said the nurse. “Just a little bit of everything: fetching the ball, finding a way to get it around in the bucket, making a few passes. He’s a nice, versatile, multi-faceted person.”
The rookie added: “It was great to play at home, try to interact with the fans, get their energy. They probably pushed us a little further today. So today we had a good conversation. I like it. That was fun.
“I’m a very versatile (guy) where I can do a lot of different things. I just come in, try to play defense, do my job and play offense.
“I would just say, it would be nice to be able to stick with the system, let the system run, be able to come here and play every single day and just get better.”