TAMPA, Fla. — One of the first things Nick Nurse noticed when he walked onto the floor of Amalie Arena was the Toronto Raptors‘ 2019 NBA championship banner hanging from the rafters.
“It certainly gives you a boost, just a little bit of juice or energy,”’ the Raptors coach said. “It’s nice to have the touches of home, for sure.”
Kyle Lowry scored 25 points in Toronto’s 117-105 pre-season loss to the Miami Heat, in a game that was remarkable more for its venue. The Raptors debuted their temporary home court at Amalie, normally home to the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, but also Toronto’s home away from home, for now.
In his first action this season, Lowry knocked down a three-pointer barely a minute into the game, scored six of the Raptors’ first eight points, and shot 6-for-10 from behind the arc in his 27 minutes of action.
Pascal Siakam had 14 points, while Chris Boucher had three threes and 11 points on the night.
KZ Okpala had 21 points to top Miami. Canadian Kelly Olynyk had 13 points and seven rebounds.
The Raptors announced Nov. 20 that they’d play out of Tampa due to Canada’s COVID-19 travel restrictions and rising cases in Ontario.
In the four frantic weeks since, they’ve built a world-class practice facility in two ballrooms of the downtown JW Marriott hotel. And they moved their game floor to Amalie, even hanging the 2019 championship banner from the ceiling.
They host the New Orleans Pelicans to open the regular season on Wednesday.
On Friday, the Raptors led 24-23 after a messy first quarter for both teams.
A running dunk by Okpala capped an 8-0 Miami run that put the Heat up by 10 late in the second. The Raptors closed the half with their own 8-0 run and trailed 58-56 at halftime.
Miami built another 10-point lead in the third, and went into the fourth up 91-83. A three-pointer by Max Strus punctuated a 15-0 Heat run that put the visitors up by 20 with 7:22 to play and it was all but game over.
The game marked Toronto’s first in front of fans since March 9 in Utah. The Raptors are one of a handful of teams that have announced they’ll permit a limited number of fans at Amalie Arena. Friday’s crowd was just 1,400, seated in small pockets and well back of the court. The Raptors will allow 3,800 fans at regular-season games.
The NBA shuttered for COVID-19 on March 11, and resumed four months later in the Walt Disney World bubble. The only fans were virtual ones displayed on a huge screen.