Coming off the two most-watched games in Canadian history, the Toronto Raptors have clearly made their presence felt in the NBA Finals. Taking a convincing 2-1 series lead on the home court of the two-time defending champs, the Raptors made a statement against the Golden State Warriors in Game 3.
Before the game, fans were clearly making the most of this moment. Acutely aware of how difficult it can be to reach this point in an NBA season, the hundreds of fans in red were doing everything they could to enjoy the lead-up to maybe the most important game in franchise history - only to be surpassed by every subsequent game in this series.
Though many fans were joyous, almost all made clear that this wasn't a time to rest on their laurels. Tomasso Bertoncelli and Ludovico Callerio are two Raptor fans from Italy who came to Oakland to watch their favorite team. Bertoncelli did a fantastic job of displaying his loyalty, donning a weathered Andrea Bargnani jersey with the name crossed out and a hand-written "Lowry" scribbled in its place.
"All season long I have been quite confident about the Raptors being something special this season…," Bertoncelli said. He mentioned his friends doubted the Raptors could ever make the Finals and, as news broke that Klay Thompson would not play, he walked away emphasizing just how important winning Game 3 was. "I think we have to win tonight."
He was clearly confident in this team and he was not alone. As tip approached, the sense throughout Oracle Arena was that this was a game the Raptors more than had the ability to win. Though they made up just a fraction of the overall crowd, the speckles of red in an overwhelming sea of gold made themselves heard throughout the nearly wire-to-wire victory.
When we travel, they travel. #WeTheNorth | #NBAFinals pic.twitter.com/CSItJB8KMl- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) June 6, 2019
The confidence Raptor fans had pregame was similarly apparent on the court as the Raptors themselves came out immediately ready to play. Maybe the loudest Oracle got was after Stephen Curry hit a massive pull-up 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter to cut Toronto's lead to four. Moments later, Danny Green hit one of his six 3s and the cheers from Raptor fans suddenly became the main sound in the arena.
The theme of the night quickly became that the Raptors were not intimidated by coming into Oracle. Andrew Mills is a 27-year-old Raptor fan living in San Francisco who made clear that the Raptors winning in Oakland would mean more to him than just about any other possible victory. "I interact with Warrior fans every day," Mills said. "They all know I am a Raptor fan and I want nothing more than to win a title on their home court."
Mills took a moment and emphasized that a win in Game 3 would be an acceptable start. When asked how he'd interact with his Warrior-fan coworkers the next day if the Raptors indeed won Game 3, he responded with a smirk and said he'd "probably just play O Canada on repeat all day."
Ultimately, Game 3 was about as comfortable a victory as Finals games come. Golden State did hold a 5-4 advantage early in the game but Pascal Siakam soon knocked down his first of seven shots and Toronto had a lead they would never relinquish.
There were moments in the third quarter where that lead didn't exactly appear water-tight. The Warriors threw their typical haymaker 3s, layups and forced turnovers at the Raptors, but Toronto responded in kind every time. By the end of the third quarter, Toronto expanded its lead to 14 and the "Let's Go Raptors" chants were loud enough to rival any "Let's Go Warriors" chants.
The Warriors will come back healthier in Game 4, with Thompson and Kevin Durant potentially both on their way. Given Golden State's injuries, this was a game Toronto had to win and they did more than that, they made a statement. As Raptor fans poured out of one of the final ever Warrior games in Oracle Arena, one thing was clear: they believe they are going to win this series.