It has been 15 years since the Grizzlies moved from Vancouver, but it was evident on Saturday night that the city has not lost its love for the sport. A sold-out Rogers Arena provided an energetic atmosphere for the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors to open the NBA preseason. There was certainly excitement about Kevin Durant in his first game as a Warrior, but a majority of the crowd felt the “We The North” spirit and supported Toronto. Long after each team’s starters were taken out of the game, the Raptors’ third-stringers managed to pull ahead late in the fourth quarter to secure a 97-93 win.
While the crowd definitely favoured the Raptors, there was an evident aura surrounding the Warriors. The Vancouver crowd reacted well to exciting plays by the team that finished 73-9 last year and one win away from an NBA championship. There was a particularly big reaction to Durant; however, it was not an entirely positive reaction. Every time Durant touched the ball, he was showered with boos from the crowd, something that he expects in arenas across the league this year. “We’ll see what reception (the Warriors) get throughout the year,” said Durant. “I’m sure it won’t be the first time we get booed.”
Perhaps the booing got to Durant’s head to start the game. In the opening quarter, he committed two turnovers and missed his first four shots, much to the crowd’s pleasure. Durant finally got points on the board with just over a minute left in the first quarter on a wide-open slam-dunk off a turnover. Durant would finish 2-9 from the field with nine points. Despite the lackluster performance from Durant, the highly touted Warriors offence put on a show for Vancouver’s fans. Klay Thompson hit for four three-pointers and finished with 16 points. Stephen Curry went just two of six from the field, but got the crowd cheering with an impressive alley-oop pass to Andre Iguodala. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr saw enough out of his stars in the first half, as none of them saw significant playing time in the second half.
The Raptors also rewarded their West Coast fans with some excitement as well. DeMarre Carroll looked solid at small forward with 14 points and four rebounds. Fresh off signing his massive contract, DeMar DeRozan elevated for the biggest dunk of the night. He finished three of eleven for 11 points. Canadian point guard Cory Joseph got the crowd buzzing with a deep three pointer to end the third quarter. Both of the Raptors 2016 first round picks made an impact in the game. Ninth overall pick Jakob Pöltl played thirteen minutes and scored four points with five rebounds. Twenty-seventh overall pick Pascal Siakam was clutch for the Raptors, securing the win with a couple of late put-back shots that put the game out of reach. He finished with nine points and eight rebounds.
The Warriors in particular had nothing but nice things to say about Vancouver as a city. Kerr had fond memories of visiting Vancouver during his playing career. “I loved coming here,” said Kerr. “It’s a beautiful city.” Kerr shared a funny story about visiting Vancouver during his time as a San Antonio Spur. “I was sitting in the Pan Pacific hotel, staring at these sea planes taking off like, ‘Man I gotta get on one of those.’ I called the concierge and we set it up. I didn’t tell (San Antonio coach Gregg Popovic). He would not have been happy; half of his team up in a sea plane above Whistler.” Although the team had limited time in the city, Curry was also impressed by Vancouver. When asked whether Vancouver should get another NBA team, he responded, “Why not?”
Although Curry’s endorsement does not mean much in the effort to bring an NBA team back to Vancouver, the impressive attendance of 19,000 showed that the city still cares about basketball. There does not appear to be any imminent NBA expansion or relocation, but Vancouver showed that it wants a second chance to prove it is a basketball town.