The real star of the thrilling first-round series between the Nets and Raptors turned out to be Toronto itself. The success-starved sports town brought its A-game, even as Brooklyn prevailed in seven, to the point where the Nets' biggest stars had nothing but love for the opposing fans.
From taking over the singing of the national anthem to the thousands strong packing Maple Leaf Square (aka "Jurassic Park") to watch each game on the big screen, you couldn't escape them. This is a franchise that hadn't sniffed the playoffs in six years, and hadn't won a series in 13. That last streak continues, but the Raptors are good, young, and well-run. This was just a taste of what the future holds, and the Air Canada Centre projects to be one of the legitimate best home-court advantages in the NBA.
Paul Pierce called it "one of the great environments I've ever been in," adding that "as far as the noise, enthusiasm—this is as tough as it's gonna get."
What made it so tough?
"Everybody's against you. I can't even say some of the things they were calling me out there. To come away with a win, it means so much more, because you know you gave everything. You were against not only the 15,000 in the building, but you were against the other 15,000 that sat outside."
Kevin Garnett was even more effusive in his admiration for the Toronto crowd. Whereas Pierce's praise was in service of highlighting how tough the road win was, Garnett was simply impressed. (And you'll note from the postgame transcript that KG's statement was completely unprompted.)
"I want to give a shout out to Toronto, the city. This has got to be one of the best places and best atmospheres I've played in in a long time. I was sitting up here, Paul and I were talking, [Jason Collins] and I were talking about different places we'd played and the passion — but this place was rocking. D-Will was shooting free throws and our ears were ringing. Big shout out to the Toronto Raptors and their fans and their city."
Pierce and Garnett are at that point in their careers where they don't have to heap praise on opposing fans unless they truly believe it. They're also savvy veterans, so it's hard not to read their Toronto hype as an indictment of the muted, late-arriving Barclays Center crowds that came in for condemnation from the team beat reporter running the official Twitter account. The subtext of all the love for Raptors fans? The hope that Brooklyn will take a lesson from Toronto.