TORONTO - It has been a while since Toronto got this excited about a basketball game.
Everybody wanted a ticket to see the Blake Griffin show Sunday, which brought to mind the anticipation that was felt ahead of some of the other most anticipated Air Canada Centre debuts.
Coming out of a lockout, the Raptors lost Vince Carter’s first game 91-77 on Feb. 9, 1999, but that game was at the SkyDome.
Carter had already begun to show the above-the-rim artistry that would become his trademark and earn him a rookie of the year trophy by the time the club had opened the ACC on Feb. 21st of that year.
Carter scored 27 in a 102-87 rout of the Vancouver Grizzlies.
On Oct. 29, 2003, Chris Bosh made his first Toronto appearance and scored 11 points, with four rebounds and two blocks. The Raptors won that contest 90-87 over the Nets. While Raptors fans were happy to finally see Bosh, the reward for suffering through a terrible season the year before, Carter was the story, going off for 39 points.
Sunday’s pre-game atmosphere probably most closely resembled the Jan. 7, 2004 debut of LeBron James.
Though that one turned out to be a stinker of a game, won 75-69 by the Raptors, James scored 21 points, including two on a spectacular windmill dunk and added five assists.
Another memorable ACC debut was Golden State guard Stephen Curry’s April 4, 2010 masterpiece.
Familiar with the court, thanks to countless times spent on it while his father Dell was a Raptor, Curry went off for 29 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds in a 113-112 win by Golden State.
“It felt like a big game tonight,” DeMar DeRozan said of Sunday’s sellout crowd.
“It means a lot, that’s a great thing,” said Ed Davis.
“Hopefully we can just keep this going and keep this arena filled.”
Griffin likes drawing a crowd, but it’s not something he thinks about or cares too much about.
“It’s exciting and humbling but at the same time, I have to realize that my main priority is first to get a win,” Griffin said.
“I’d rather play in front of three people and get a win than 20,000 and lose.”
Griffin’s best moment came when Baron Davis set him up for a vicious alley-oop cram. Griffin also threw down a casual lefty dunk and a decent two-handed effort in the first half.
DeRozan rated Griffin’s alley-oop an “11” out of 10.
Griffin added his fourth dunk after the Raptors did their usual trick of forgetting how to rebound and got his fifth late in the fourth off of a turnover.
Griffin got his sixth and final jam as the buzzer sounded, his easiest one of the night.
He was also given a message early on that the Raptors would not roll over and let him put on a show when his second shot attempt of the game was swatted away by Amir Johnson.
NO ROOKIE RESTRAINT
When Griffin picked up his third foul on a debatable call halfway through the second quarter, he complained about it to the referee.
Someone on the Raptors ref had a few words for Griffin, and the rookie immediately replied along with a glare to the offending party: “Shut the f--k up!”
Griffin also shot a puzzled stare at teammate Ryan Gomes when Gomes “stole” a rebound from the big man after the Raptors missed a shot.
Starting point guard Jose Calderon continues to pile up assists, but is in a troubling shooting slump.
Calderon came in on a 12-for-47 skid from the field for February (1-for-10 from the field) and put up a 3-for-8 shooting effort.
To his credit, Calderon is averaging over 11 assists per game in February, after his 11 dime performance on Sunday.