On an emotional night at Scotiabank Arena, Toronto welcomed back DeMar DeRozan, and then watched the Raptors earn a white-knuckled 120-117 victory over his San Antonio Spurs.
In a game that was close to the dying seconds, Kawhi Leonard led the Raptors with 25 points, including the game-winning breakaway dunk off a DeRozan lost ball turnover. Pascal Siakam added 22, while Danny Green and Kyle Lowry each had 17.
DeRozan led the Spurs with 23 points, while Marco Belinelli added 21.
It’s a seventh straight win for the Raptors, who were back on the court after the week long NBA All-Star break.
It was DeRozan’s first game back in Toronto since the Raptors traded him on July 18 along with Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round draft pick to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
Toronto fans showered the beloved ex-Raptor DeRozan with affection at every opportunity Friday night. He was cheered by a pack of early-arriving fans while warming up hours before tip-off. He got a standing ovation just for jogging out with the Spurs for pre-game layups, and again during starter introductions. They cheered his first touches and free throws.
But the most robust ovation came during the first timeout. It included a poignant video tribute full of moments from the time the Raptors drafted DeRozan ninth overall in 2009, through his nine seasons in Toronto as he blossomed from a skinny rookie to a team leader, taking the franchise to five straight postseasons and making four All-Star games.
DeRozan, the Raptors’ all-time leader in points (13,296), twice waved up at the fans to acknowledge their enduring applause. He’d had to do a day-before press conference at the Spurs team hotel to cater to all the media demand. After Friday’s game, it was DeRozan who once again commanded all the media attention.
“Tonight was a last little piece of closure for me,” said DeRozan, in a packed media scrum outside the visitors locker room. “To come back here, see familiar faces, to get that kind of burden off my shoulders.”
One reporter asked him if it had been like having your heart jump when you first see an ex-girlfriend after a breakup.
“Yeah, you be like ‘damn, she still fine though’,” said DeRozan to huge laughter.
His close friend Kyle Lowry said the two ex-teammates keep in touch daily on FaceTime. They went to dinner in Toronto together the night before the game.
“He paid,” said Lowry with a laugh. “His American dollar is really strong right now.”
Lowry called DeRozan a “life-long friend”.
“One day after we retire we’ll be hanging out on the porch drinking lemonade together,” said the Raps All-Star point guard.
The first meeting between these two teams had been a lethargic 125-107 loss for the Raptors in San Antonio. Toronto Coach Nick Nurse showed his team film of that ugly loss earlier Friday, saying his squad had been unrecognizable.
Spurs fans had relentlessly booed Leonard throughout that game in San Antonio in his first visit since the trade. The enigmatic star had played seven seasons there, and was the Finals MVP in their championship run. Particulars of the Leonard-Spurs separation still escape the basketball world.
His Raptors had lost two emotional games this season – one to DeRozan’s Spurs, and the other to the Detroit Pistons, coached by ex-Raptor boss Dwane Casey. This, Nurse told media before Friday’s game, was an opportunity to respond differently to such an occasion.
Friday night in Toronto, Leonard hit just two of his 13 field goal attempts in the first half. He then bounced back with an 11-point third quarter and blitzed in for that winning layup after DeRozan was stripped of the ball while sprawled on the ground. Leonard finished Friday’s game 8-of-23.
“It sucks that the big, critical play was me turning the ball over,” said DeRozan. “But you know, for the most part it was a hell of a game.”
Nurse was ejected late in the third quarter, as he picked up a pair of technical fouls while animatedly arguing a dubious blocking call on Danny Green. Assistant Coach Adrian Griffin took over Nurse’s duties.
Ibaka, who got the start at centre, had 13 points and 15 rebounds. Jeremy Lin, in just his second game as a Raptor contributed 11 points. Marc Gasol, who also joined the Raps just before the break, contributed four points off the bench behind Ibaka, along with seven rebounds and six assists. The centres were able to limit Spurs star big man LaMarcus Aldridge to just six points.
The Spurs fell to 33-27 on the season.
The Raptors have three more games in this home stand, Sunday versus Orlando, Tuesday against Boston and Friday versus Portland.