SportsPulse: Trsyta Krick takes a stand on a number of topics and scenarios dominating the headlines as we push through the back end of the NBA season.
DeMar DeRozan helped lead the Raptors to the best seasons in franchise history. Toronto got a chance to show its appreciation Friday.
The night ended with the crowd showering the Raptors’ newest star with an MVP chant.
DeRozan returned to Toronto for the first time since he was traded to the San Antonio Spurs in the offseason, and the fans had cheers for the four-time All-Star at every turn early. The loudest cheers came later when Kawhi Leonard stole the ball from DeRozan and scored on a go-ahead dunk with 15 seconds left to give the Raptors a 120-117 win.
Leonard sealed the victory on a pair of free throws in the final second as the crowd chanted “M-V-P.” Traded for one another as the centerpieces of last summer’s blockbuster deal, Leonard and DeRozan went toe-to-toe down the stretch. Leonard led the Raptors with 25 points, while DeRozan scored a team-high 23 for the Spurs.
Toronto (44-16) won its seventh in a row to keep pace with the Milwaukee Bucks (44-14) atop the Eastern Conference. Tied in the win column, the Raptors are a game back with two more losses. San Antonio (33-27) has lost five of its last six to fall into a tie for seventh in the West with the Los Angeles Clippers
The franchise’s all-time leader in several categories, including points, field goals, minutes and games played, DeRozan first heard the cheers when he emerged for pre-game warm-ups. He greeted fans with high-fives and hugs, then received a huge standing ovation when he was introduced before tip-off.
The crowd continued to show the love early in the game, with cheers the first few times DeRozan touched the ball. During a TV break, a two-minute tribute video was played on the Scotiabank Arena screens, prompting even more cheers. DeRozan took a few steps onto the court and gave the crowd a wave.
Drafted ninth overall by the Raptors in 2009, DeRozan played nine seasons in Toronto. He averaged 19.7 points per game while helping lead the Raptors to the playoffs in each of the last five seasons, including their lone appearance in the Eastern Conference finals in 2016.
DeRozan was traded to San Antonio in the deal that brought Leonard to Toronto. DeRozan expressed dismay about the trade in the weeks after, but he settled in nicely with the Spurs. He entered Friday’s game leading San Antonio with 21.4 points and a career-high 6.1 assists per game.
“Time does heal everything,” DeRozan said before the game. “That don’t mean it’s going to go back to the same way it was. I’m fine with that, I’ve moved on. I’m happy where I’m at.”
Follow Matt Eppers on Twitter @meppers_.