TORONTO – Precious Achiuwa spent much of the 70-minute fire delay changing into a fresh jersey, and going through his pre-game stretching routine — again.
Some players listened to music. Others had their ankles retaped. Still others watched the Brooklyn-Miami NBA game that was on the TVs in the locker-room.
On one of the oddest nights in Raptors history, Toronto crushed the Indiana Pacers 131-91 after a speaker fire at Scotiabank Arena suspended play for more than an hour and saw fans evacuated for the remainder of the game.
“Just add it to the list (of weird games),” said coach Nick Nurse.
Weird, but big in the Raptors’ quest for a playoff position.
Pascal Siakam led the way with 23 points for Toronto (42-32), who moved past Cleveland into sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
Scottie Barnes had 19 points, Achiuwa chipped in with 18, OG Anunoby finished with 16, Chris Boucher scored 15 and Thaddeus Young had 11.
The Raptors were leading 66-38 when the game was suspended with 4:05 left in the first half. Fans were evacuated, teams headed to the locker-rooms, and after Toronto Fire Services deemed it was safe to continue, players did a 10-minute warmup and the game resumed.
“During the game I looked up and that whole section was cleared out and I was trying to figure out why or what happened or I was like geez, wonder why they didn’t sell those seats,” Nurse said with a laugh. “Then I saw the firemen standing there.”
Nurse spent the break in the lounge watching a live TV feed of the arena where two firefighters, suspended from the ceiling in harnesses, were extinguishing the small blaze.
“I don’t think I’ve been in any game like that in my whole life where we had to go in the locker-room, come back,” Achiuwa said. “It was crazy. I’ve never been in a game like that.”
Fred VanVleet, who is battling a knee injury, didn’t return after the long pause in play.
Former Raptor and Toronto native Oshae Brissett topped the Pacers (25-50) with 21 points, while Justin Anderson finished with 18.
With just eight games left in the regular season and the Raptors battling for a playoff spot, finishing the game after the fire delay was crucial for Toronto.
The Raptors have already clinched at least a play-in berth, but would prefer a top-six finish in the Eastern Conference to avoid that extended path to the post-season. Chicago’s win saw the Raptors take sole possession of sixth, a game ahead of Cleveland.
Indiana has already been eliminated from playoff contention, and while the Raptors have lost numerous games against bad teams this season, their 20-point lead in the first quarter Saturday was a strong hint that wouldn’t be happening.
The Raptors led by 29 in the second quarter, and stretched that to 35 points when Boucher drilled a three-pointer with 7:07 to play. Nurse went deep into his bench to play out the remainder of the rout.
Armoni Brooks, who scored six points just hours after signing a multi-year deal with Toronto, said the restart after the fire was tough.
“That’s why in the locker-room we had the Heat game on the TV just so we were still locked in on basketball,” Brooks said. “We had some of our film circulating on there too so we could just stay locked in on what we had to.”
The empty arena was a backdrop the Raptors were all too familiar with, having played several weeks earlier this season in front of no fans after the latest COVID-19 wave in the fall saw tight crowd restrictions in Ontario.
“Yes, let’s not come up with any more ways to clear the building,” Nurse said, knocking on the wooden table. “It’s never a good thing, it’s never positive news when they clear the building.”
The first sign something was amiss was when fans noticed smoke in the east end of the arena. Video showed an overhead speaker in flames. One section was evacuated and then another, as fire fighters stood in the empty section peering up at the ceiling.
A timeout was eventually called and Toronto Fire Services met with Public address announcer Herbie Kuhn who instructed fans to evacuate, which was met by boos from the capacity crowd of 19,800.
The Raptors said all tickets would be refunded at point of purchase within 30 days.
“The necessary venue repairs will be executed in time to allow the Toronto Maple Leafs game to proceed as scheduled on Sunday at 7 p.m. against the Florida Panthers,” Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment Ltd., said in a statement.
The Raptors pounced on the Pacers early Saturday, despite 11 points in the first nine minutes from Brissett, who had numerous friends and family members in the crowd.
“I got a whole bunch of texts from friends, family. They were really mad (about the evacuation),” Brissett said. “It was good they came to support and watched what they did get to see.”
Siakam and Anunoby combined for 21 first-quarter points for the Raptors, who shot 68 per cent in the frame. The Raptors ended the quarter with a 13-0 run to lead 41-21 to start the second, and the rout was on.
The Pacers couldn’t cut the difference to less than 19 points before halftime. The teams played the final four minutes of the first half, and then paused for the shortened 7.5-minute halftime break, with Toronto comfortably in front 74-46.
The Raptors play all but two — Orlando and New York — of their final games at home. They host Boston on Monday and Minnesota on Wednesday.
In a statement Saturday, MLSE and the Toronto Raptors issued a statement saying refunds for Saturday’s game would be completed to “original ticket purchasers within 30 days.”
“The necessary venue repairs will be executed in time to allow the Toronto Maple Leafs game to proceed as scheduled on Sunday at 7 p.m. against the Florida Panthers,” the statement reads.
-With files from Global News
© 2022 The Canadian Press