DeMar DeRozan called it his “last little piece of closure.” Unfortunately, his return to Toronto did not come with a win.
The former Raptor hero finished with 23 points and eight assists but lost the ball to Kawhi Leonard, the man he was traded for last July, with 16.9 seconds left. Leonard’s ensuing dunk gave Toronto a 118-117 lead and he added two free throws for a 120-117 win over DeRozan and the San Antonio Spurs in an entertaining game that had 16 lead changes.
On Thursday, DeRozan compared his Toronto exit via an unwanted trade to a breakup, albeit a happy one.
“She moved on and I moved on,” he joked. “Now we’re both happy.”
Friday night he was asked if the game was like seeing his ex for the first time.
DeMar DeRozan’s literacy legacy lives on in Toronto
“Yeah, you’d be like ‘Damn she’s still fine as hell,”‘ he replied, drawing loud laughter.
The 20,048 Raptors fans at the sold-out Scotiabank Arena showed the love affair with the 29-year-old from Compton, Calif., is far from over, rewarding him with three standing ovations.
“It’s an honour. I mean, I played practically my whole career here. To come back and get a reception like that is definitely humbling, beyond gratifying,” he said. “And I appreciate it.”
The first ovation was when DeRozan and the Spurs entered the court for the pre-game warmup.
A second came during DeRozan’s introduction. The Spurs guard had just finished hugging Nav Bhatia, a courtside constant known as Superfan, and was posing for a selfie when the applause started. DeRozan put an arm up and waved to the crowd in appreciation.
Kawhi Leonard leads Raptors to win over Nets in Gasol’s home debut
The longest came during a video tribute in the first timeout of the game. The 90-second video ended with the words “Thank You DeMar,” bringing the fans to their feet. DeRozan came off the bench and waved but the applause continued as the players took the court, with DeRozan waving in appreciation again.
Austrian big man Jakob Poeltl, who was also included in the trade, got his own — somewhat shorter — video tribute early in the second quarter, with some fans rising out of their seats to applaud the seven-footer who played 136 games for Toronto over two seasons.
WATCH: ‘Time does heal…everything’: DeMar DeRozan gets ready to return to Toronto as a Spur
Leonard also got a loud reception when he was introduced before the game. And there were chants of MVP as he sealed the deal with the final free throws. He finished with 25 points on the night, 19 of which came in the second half.
Drafted ninth overall by Toronto in the 2009 draft, DeRozan had expected to be a Raptor for life.
Jeremy Lin ‘hyped’ to join Toronto Raptors in Instagram post
Instead, he left town at odds with team president Masai Ujiri over the unwanted move. After nine seasons in Toronto, he exited as the franchise leader in points (13,296), field goals (4,716), free throws (3,539), and games (675).
The two teams met Jan. 3 in San Antonio with the Spurs winning comfortably 125-107 as DeRozan notched his first career triple-double with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists as San Antonio fans jeered Leonard.
DeRozan, surrounded by cameras as he headed towards the visitors dressing room before Friday’s game, had clearly been thinking about what welcome he might receive.
“When they get that long standing ovation, I always thought that was the coolest thing in the world,” DeRozan said Thursday. “I’ve never received one.”
Now he has had several.
Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) tries to get pass San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan (10) during second half NBA basketball action in Toronto on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn Canadian Press
Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) tries to get pass San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan (10) during second half NBA basketball action in Toronto on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
There was another reunion Friday with Spanish brothers Marc and Pau Gasol lining up against each other. Pau, 38, was wearing San Antonio colours with Marc, 34, a recent Raptors acquisition from Memphis.
Marc, in foul trouble for much of the night, finished with four points, six assists and seven rebounds. Pau did not see action.