Inside Scotiabank Arena on Sunday, where he had been beloved as a Toronto Raptor for nine seasons, DeMar DeRozan helped orchestrate a fourth-quarter San Antonio Spurs comeback to topple his old team.
DeRozan scored 25 points – eight in the fourth quarter – to spearhead a 105-104 victory over the Raptors in a game the home team had led for three-and-a-half quarters.
The Raptors collapsed despite having more depth on the floor than they have had in nearly a month. Norman Powell (20 points) and Pascal Siakam (15 points) returned to the lineup for the first time since they both suffered injuries on Dec. 18.
Serge Ibaka led Toronto with 21 points and 14 boards, along with 16 points and 15 assists from Kyle Lowry.
It was DeRozan’s second visit to Toronto since the Raptors traded away the long-time fan favourite in July, 2018, as part of the deal that sent Kawhi Leonard to Canada.
The previous time DeRozan faced the Raptors in Toronto, Leonard and Lowry combined to strip him of the ball in the final seconds of a tight match and set up Leonard’s game-winning dunk.
Just like last year, a hefty crowd of local media awaited DeRozan. The now-30-year-old, four-time NBA all-star arrived at the arena wearing a white tracksuit under a blue plaid jacket, surveyed the pack of reporters gathered for him outside the visitor’s locker room and asked with a grin, “For me?”
It was DeRozan’s first visit to Toronto since his former team won the NBA championship.
“I was happy for all the guys I played with. I think every single guy on that team will tell you they had a text from me as soon as they got to their phones after, congratulating them,” DeRozan said. “I think I talked to everybody that night they won. I was just happy for them. It’s an opportunity that players playing in this league don’t get, and to be connected to those guys and to this country, to see them do that, I was definitely happy for them.”
The night began with a moment of silence for the 176 victims – 57 of them Canadian – aboard the Ukrainian passenger jet shot down last week.
The Raps started Siakam and Powell, back after missing 11 games with groin and shoulder injuries, respectively. They opened alongside Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and OG Anunoby – the ninth starting five the Raps have used this season. Starters Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet, both recovering from hamstring injuries, remain sidelined.
It was Siakam who scored the first bucket Sunday, posting up an outstretched DeRozan before nailing a fadeway jumper just 47 seconds in. Toronto’s Cameroonian star erupted for 12 points in his seven-minute, first-quarter shift – including a pair of three-pointers.
The Raptors led by eight at half-time then stretched it to 18 inside the third quarter. But DeRozan was coming alive. He only had three points in the first half, but scored 14 in the third quarter.
Toronto had a 82-69 lead going into the fourth quarter before San Antonio roared back and stole the lead with six minutes left. The visitors pulled ahead by nine, led largely by DeRozan getting to the free-throw line and Derrick White going off for a big fourth quarter. The fourth quarter got wild.
Three-pointers from Lowry, Powell and Ibaka tied the game going into the final minute as the building swelled with noise. A Siakam free throw put Toronto up by one, then a Marco Belinelli deep ball surged San Antonio up by two.
A game-tying layup attempt by Siakam rolled off the rim. Lowry fouled DeRozan and put him on the free-throw line to put his Spurs ahead by four. A Lowry three-pointer chipped that lead to one. Siakam attempted a last-ditch 35-footer for the win, but it wasn’t close.
It was the second home game in a row that Toronto (25-14) has let slip late in the fourth quarter. The Raptors next play on Wednesday in Oklahoma City.