Warriors coach Kerr says even he was moved by the singing of ‘O Canada’

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Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) celebrates defeating the Indiana Pacers in NBA basketball action in Toronto on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

TORONTO – Steve Kerr is a big fan of Toronto. Even when the city’s basketball fans are heckling him.

Golden State’s head coach has talked several times this week about Toronto being one of his favourite stops in the league, and even he has been moved about the historic first NBA Finals to be played north of the border.

“It was a great, great atmosphere,” Kerr said Friday. “The national anthem was one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of. Hearing the crowd sing along to ‘O Canada,’ it was beautiful.”

The Raptors, who are making their first Finals appearance in the team’s 24-year history, beat the Warriors 118-109 in Game 1 on Thursday.

Toronto has experienced a groundswell of support across the country during its historic post-season run. Asked about the atmosphere in the first Finals game in Canada, Kerr called it “fun.”

“Frankly it’s fun to be in these environments, to be challenged, to be threatened,” the 53-year-old coach said. “Especially because the Canadian fans are so nice that even when they’re harassing us, they do it in a very polite manner.”

Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson was politely heckled by Canadian fans earlier this week.

“It was the nicest heckle ever,” he told ESPN. “It was like a, ‘Boo, I hope you have a terrible day.’ It wasn’t no cuss words or nothing, so I appreciate that. I appreciate the respect. Thank you, Canada.”

Kerr visited Toronto with the Chicago Bulls in the Raptors’ inaugural 1995-96 season. A capacity SkyDome crowd was on hand. The Raptors beat the eventual NBA champions 109-108.

What does Kerr remember from that game?

“I remember missing the game-winning shot at the buzzer,” he said with a laugh. “What I remember back then was just coming up here and how intense and passionate the fans were. They were so excited to have the NBA.”

Kerr’s wildly successful five-year run as head coach has included five appearances in the Finals. This is the first time, however, the two-time defending champions have opened the Finals with a loss under his watch. The coach believes his team can draw on its experience in this new bit of adversity.

“The experience helps,” Kerr said Friday. “Winning multiple championships helps because you have seen it all. There’s also just the knowledge that you’ve been here before. You’ve been down. We have been up 3-1 and lost a series. We have been down 3-1 and won a series. Everything in between. So nothing is going to catch these guys off-guard.”

While Game 1 winners have gone on to win the series in the majority of Finals, Kerr wasn’t sweating the statistics on Friday.

“As soon as you lose a game, it will be on the crawl that now we only have a 19.7% chance of winning the series,” he joked. “Then if we win (Sunday) we’ll have a 42.7% chance of not losing the series. This stuff is what it is. You lose a game, you come back and you try to win.”

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