TORONTO — Almost 20,000 rapturous Raptors fans cramming a downtown arena and tens of thousands more across Canada watched in disbelief Monday as the home team lost by a single point to the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of their first NBA Finals.
The roars that had echoed through cities and towns across the country dissipated as the Raptors failed to become the first team outside of the United States to win the championship.
Fans were in agony as their team came back to take the lead late in the fourth quarter — until the Warriors pushed back ahead. Some clasped their hands in prayer. Others bounced nervously on their feet.
Outside the arena, thousands wearing ponchos and huddled under umbrellas jammed the Jurassic Park fan zone, bursting throughout the evening into chants of “Let’s Go, Raptors!” But they all went quiet as one final buzzer-beating attempt to steal the game went wide.
“I’m just devastated,” said Velda Foster, who had spent the last few minutes of the game praying. “Completely devastated. I thought we had it.”
Even though her spirits were down, she said she would be back in Jurassic Park for Game 6, which will be played on Thursday in Oakland, Calif.
Still, a small group of fans managed a cheer outside Jurassic Park: “Raps in 6!”
Earlier in the day, the smell of legal marijuana wafted through the damp air as a lineup snaked halfway around the large arena amid optimism the Raptors would take home the title. A soaking wet Sam Patenaude had lined up at 7 a.m. to get into the zone.
“It’s better than being inside. There’s so much energy. I love it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s baseball, or hockey, or basketball, we support our team. That’s what Canada does.”
Before the tip-off, Grammy-winning R&B singer Monica, best known for her chart-topping duet “The Boy is Mine” with Brandy, performed the Star-Spangled Banner. It was largely left to fans to belt out O Canada.
Roberto Bernabe said he flew by himself to Toronto from Cebu City in the Philippines on Sunday and went straight to the Jurassic Park lineup and slept there overnight. The 45-year-old Filipino said he’s been a Raptors fan since seeing them play in 2014.
“I immediately became a fan,” said Bernabe, sporting a sign reading: “Raptors fans from the Philippines.”
Allen Agco and Iris Ilano flew from Vancouver on Monday morning for a spot in Jurassic Park, where some had been camping out since late Friday.
“We had to be part of the fans and the craziness,” Agco said.
For those unable to get to Toronto, versions of the downtown fan zone, with its large screens broadcasting the games, sprang up across the country.
In Montreal, enthusiasm for Canada’s lone NBA franchise was enough to create the unthinkable: A major downtown street was closed off Monday night so fans could cheer on a team from Toronto. For the first time, part of Peel Street became a Montreal version of Jurassic Park.
Fans in Halifax watched at block parties, while about 13,000 filled Regina’s Mosaic Stadium, home of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders, to watch on the MaxTron. At more than 630 square metres, the screen is bigger than a standard NBA basketball court.
“It’s crazy. It’s been just phenomenal to see the turnout,” said Sharon Christie, who was in the stadium. “I did live in Toronto when the Blue Jays won the world series, so this is the next comparable thing.”
Police said they were expecting 25,000 spectators at Mississauga’s Celebration Square — dubbed Jurassic Park West for the occasion, while others filled a movie theatre in Vancouver.
“I was so looking forward to celebrating,” said Lawrence Pez, one of those at the theatre. ”For now, I’m disappointed.”
Officials in Guelph, Ont., had to cancel their viewing party, because it was too windy to inflate the outdoor screen. The Niagara Falls were lit up red in honour of the Raps, while fans in Rockford, Ill., hometown to the Raptors’ Fred VanVleet, crowded their version of Jurassic Park.
Toronto Mayor John Tory — wearing a gold-and-black Raptors blazer — waded into the crowd at half-time, cheering with fans and posing for pictures.
“They’ve been out here all day … and it was pouring rain,” Tory said of the fans outside. “Other NBA cities are taking notice.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted the national anthem had “never sounded better.”