After a long 19 months away, the Toronto Raptors hit the court at Scotiabank Arena on Monday night with cheering fans in the stands. The team took on Philadelphia in the pre-season game and beat them 123-107. Players and head coach Nick Nurse say it’s all thanks to the amazing feeling of being back at home.
Despite it being a pre-season game, just over 8,000 fans showed up in their Raptors gear and handmade signs welcoming the team home. Even Nav Bhatia was there in his reserved courtside seat and record-setting Olympian Penny Oleksiak showed up too.
“It sure feels good to be back. There’s a buzz, a level of comfort. There’s an energy that translates from that crowd to the players. It does feel good,” said Nick Nurse to The Canadian Press.
“We didn’t think it was that bad down (in Tampa), but it feels a heck of a lot better to be back, let’s put it that way,” he said, adding that it felt like more buzz than normal for a pre-season game.
A pair of fans who showed up early to the game told the outlet that they were “really emotional” to be there. “It’s Canada’s team, and to welcome them home … it’s not a pre-season game to us,” they said.
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Fred VanVleet agreed. “It was great . . . great to see our fans, make eye contact with people that you know have missed it just as much as we’ve missed it,” he said.
Although, the player admitted that last night’s crowd was “not enough” — the arena is only running at half-capacity right now with 9,900 available seats but failed to sell tickets for even that number. That’ll likely change once the season begins on October 20th and MLSE plans to open up Scotiabank Arena at full capacity later this season.
“Let’s continue to fill it up,” VanVleet added. “Part of what makes this place what it is is not only the individual fan but the collective of bringing everybody together and just so much energy and enthusiasm that’s in the air that comes from piling up on top of each other. I don’t know if we can do that given the rules, but hopefully we continue to grow that crowd and get back to what we’re used to around here.”
After such a long stretch away from home, we can only hope for a total return to normal for the Raptors this season.