With a minute to go in the Eastern Conference Finals, the energy inside Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena was electric.
For the first time ever, the Toronto Raptors were about to make it to the NBA Finals, and anxiety filled the room as fans locked their eyes on the players as the clock counted down.
Local resident and longtime Raptors fan Cathy Boudreau was at the game.
Dressed in red and white Raptors shirts, a headband with a small basketball net attached on top, and a We The North temporary tattoo stuck to her right cheek, she realized her team was about to make it to the finals, and she did the only thing she could do as her emotions took over.
“I think I wept for the last minute of the game,” she said. “I couldn’t believe they made it to the finals. We’ve been fans for so long. We felt the heartbreak of those games when we were eliminated.”
The buzzer went off to end the game and the entire crowd erupted in cheers, with friends and strangers alike high-fiving each other.
Boudreau embraced her husband, Justin, also a longtime Raptors fan, as confetti poured down inside the arena.
It was a dream come true for the Cookstown residents, who used to live in Bradford West Gwillimbury and went to Bradford District High School.
You might have spotted their car driving around town, with Raptors flags in the windows and a licence plate that reads WETHNRTH.
They are also getting another licence plate for their other car that reads ATTHEBZR, in tribute to Kuwai Leonard’s Game 7 buzzer-beater that launched the Raptors into the Eastern finals.
The pair have been Raptors fans since the club started, and even recently took their two sons, Evan, 14, and Kyle, 17, (Kyle’s middle name is Carter after former Raptors star Vince Carter), to Game 2 against the Golden State Warriors.
The Raptors are leading the series 2-1 and take on the Warriors again tonight.
The Boudreau's will not be the only ones in Bradford West Gwillimbury cheering on the Raptors.
At Edukids Child Care Centre, the entire group of kids and staff got together for a photo, all dressed in Raptors gear, to submit to a contest to make it onto the jumbotron during a game.
Kelsey O'Connell, an early childhood assistant at the centre, has been a Raptors fan for 10 years and brought in about seven shirts for her colleagues to wear in the photo.
"To have the first NBA finals in Canada is exciting," she said, adding she used to attend games weekly. "The organization is very inclusive (with players of) different ethnicities. The Raptors, as an organization, bring everyone together."
Cindy Paulus, director of the centre, said the kids are excited to show their support for the Raptors, with some even wearing dinosaur costumes every day.
"We want (the Raptors) to know we support them, she said. "(The saying is) We The North. We're up north. We want them to win."
Playoff games are unlike any other games, Boudreau said.
“We’ve been to a lot of playoff games. The feel was similar to a lot of those games, but we did see a little more celebrities walking around,” she said. “It was good. It was special.”
Their family paid “a lot of money” for standing seats “way up high, but thanks to their years of fandom and having made friends with some ushers over the years, Boudreau said they were able to walk down to court level before the game started and see the players warming up.
The Warriors took that game 109-104, but Boudreau said she is still confident the Raptors will win the series.
She and her husband were also able to attend Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and they splurged on seats just five rows up near the Raptors bench.
“That was a dream come true. That was the best night of my life,” she said. “We were really in the mix of it. I could see Kyle Lowry give his wife a look in between the plays. Drake is right there. The Arkells were two rows in front of us. That was an unbelievable night.”
Those tickets, she said, were $200 a piece.
Boudreau, who played basketball in high school, said she was “hooked” on the Raptors after she went to her first game.
“I grew up on hockey and the Toronto Maple Leafs. (My dad) took me to a lot of Leafs games. (But after the first Raptors game), I forgot about hockey, and I fell in love with basketball,” she said. “It was just so exciting and fun.”
Justin Boudreau said his wife definitely takes the lead as the biggest Raptors fan in their household, and at the recent Wing Ding event in Cookstown, the entire family wore Raptors T-shirts during their yard sale.
Cathy said she has vowed to wear Raptors gear at all times during their playoffs run — even wearing CJ's PJs, a brand owned by the Raptors’ C.J. Miles, to bed with a Raptors T-shirt.
"We've been fans since the beginning. It's in our DNA," said Justin. "It’s been an amazing run. Win or lose, we've just enjoyed every moment."