SAN FRANCISCO - Mere minutes into the game, you could sense that Tuesday night would be a memorable one for the Raptors.
It had been nearly a decade since the franchise had tasted victory in the Bay Area, as Toronto seemed poised to shock the hosting Golden State Warriors and the rest of the NBA, who began to take notice of what was transpiring in Oakland.
"The @Raptors lead the @Warriors by 27 early in the 3rdQ in Golden State #NotATypo," tweeted the league's official account.
If you tuned in at that point, an impartial viewer expecting to see something remarkable, you were not disappointed. This Raptors team was on the verge of an improbable and much-needed win, instead an epic collapse secured its place in franchise history.
It turned out to be a night they won't soon forget.
"We've just got to get a win," Rudy Gay said after the Raptors suffered the largest collapse in their 19-year existence, falling 112-103 to the Warriors. "However, whenever, we just need a win. It should have been tonight. Now we have to go out and find another one."
"We made it tough on ourselves tonight. We just need a win, man."
Like watching in slow motion, it seemed inevitable once the Warriors began to make their run late in the third. It started with consecutive turnovers (one by Gay the second by Terrence Ross) and turned into a series of open looks for the dynamic, sharpshooting backcourt duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Fortunately for the Raptors, who took an 18-point lead into the fourth, the Warriors guards missed two of three wide-open threes to end the frame. At that point Curry and Thompson were 3-of-12 from long distance and the Raptors had been closing out on most, if not all of their attempts.
With 14 minutes remaining the visiting Raptors started to play with fire and against this team, in that arena, it wasn't a huge surprise when they got burned.
"They just started making [shots]," Dwane Casey said of the Warriors, who went 8-of-11 from three-point range and outscored Toronto 42-15 overall in the fourth quarter. "They were the same shots and we were right there. A couple of plays guys were draped all over them."
"But we knew that going in. We knew they would be lethal, that they were going to be hard to stop."
The Warriors run was expected, the crowd - largely credited as the best in the league - came to life and the Raptors had nowhere to hide, though they sure tried. In those 12 minutes of basketball, the Raptors played scared. They looked like a team that was unsure of themselves, of every pass, of every shot, a team that was playing not to lose.
"The thing about it is when they get the momentum then the rim gets wider," said Gay, who had 18 points in the loss. "It gets bigger and they keep throwing shots at it and they keep falling. It's all confidence."
Whatever confidence the Raptors had and had worked hard to maintain for 34 minutes was gone. Their offence was almost non-existent. It "stunk", as Gay put it himself. They recorded just one fourth-quarter assist, turned the ball over four times and shot 1-of-7 from beyond the three-point line, many of those shots were forced early in the clock.
DeMar DeRozan led the team in scoring with 26 while backcourt mate Kyle Lowry added 20 to go along with nine assists.
The momentum began to shift when Lowry was taken out of the game with a head injury late in the third after colliding with Warriors centre Andrew Bogut. Lowry passed concussion tests on the bench and then again after the game but by the time he re-entered in the fourth the Raptors lead was shrinking at a rapid pace.
"I just wanted to get back out there and see if I could help the team," Lowry said. "I didn't make any shots and I didn't really help the team. They made a hell of a run against us."
The crowd didn't help Toronto's cause.
"I couldn't hear my defence," Lowry admitted. "I couldn't hear my guys out there. I mean honestly, that crowd, I really couldn't hear."
The Raptors first half was as good as they've played all year, for what it's worth. Their 65 points were the most they've scored in a half this season. They led by 17 at the break, shot 60 per cent and out-rebounded the home team 25-11. Amir Johnson, who came off the bench for the second straight game, looked like his old self. Johnson had 14 of his 16 points, on 6-of-7 shooting in the first half.
Toronto has now dropped four straight, with two more games to go on the road before returning home to face San Antonio, the defending Western Conference champs. The schedule gets tougher before it gets any easier and with GM Masai Ujiri watching and waiting, time is not a luxury they can afford to waste.
Tuesday's was an embarrassing loss and one that's hard to justify without making excuses, something this team is no longer supposed to be doing. It was the type of loss - for all the talk about moving on and getting the next one - that sticks with a player, a coach, a franchise. It could be the type of haunting, season-defining loss this same team experienced on the road a year ago.