When the tension between Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs came to an end last summer with his trade to the Toronto Raptors, the matchups between the two teams immediately became some of the most anticipated games of the season, and Thursday night the first of those went down in Texas, but it likely wasn’t the reunion Leonard hope for.
The night began with Leonard being booed through warm-ups and introductions, which continued throughout the night each time he touched the ball, whether it was simply boos or chants designed to get under his skin, while teammate Danny Green received a warm reception in his return to the city. Of course, the new Raptors weren’t the only ones making their first appearance as opponents to a former squad, with DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl each playing their first game as a Raptors opponent, as well, and DeRozan clearly came out to send a message in this game.
In the first quarter the Raptors struggled to find their offensive footing, missing all seven attempts from beyond the arc and turning it over five times to just four assists, with the Spurs getting out to a 19-point lead behind 9 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists from DeRozan as he showed off his entire repertoire early, and fellow former Raptor Rudy Gay contributing 8 points of his own, and the Spurs never really let things go from there. They controlled the remainder of the game from that point onward. DeRozan paced the team throughout the night on the way to his first career triple-double, but they got contributions from up and down the roster, with all five starters scoring in double digits and Bryn Forbes knocking down 6 triples as the Spurs shot 48.1% from long distance on the night.
For the Raptors’ part, Leonard had a nice enough offensive night, with 21 points on just 13 shots, but the team never really got on enough of a roll to put a run together and get back in the game, going just 6-30 from downtown. Norman Powell and Delon Wright each had strong nights off the bench, with Powell continuing his strong play since his return from injury and bringing some energy to the game for the road team, but this game was never truly close.
The story for the Raptors continues to be the players not in uniform as much as the guys who were, with Kyle Lowry listed as questionable and speculated as possibly available for the game nearly up until tip-off before being ruled out, and the Raptors offense hasn’t had the same rhythm to it since he’s been out. As well, the team clearly missed Jonas Valanciunas in this one, as the Spurs repeatedly attacked the paint with impunity, with Toronto not having the interior presence to put up much resistance at the rim, and the Raptors offense could’ve used Jonas’ reliable creation inside during any of several lulls in the game when they couldn’t seem to find quality looks.
With a tough back-to-back this weekend against the Eastern Conference leading Milwaukee Bucks and the Indiana Pacers who the Raptors now find themselves tied with in the loss column, the Raptors will either have to find a way to get Lowry back in the lineup and healthy enough to be effective, or find some rhythm without their leader, as Fred VanVleet, despite a decent enough stat line for the night, wasn’t the floor general the team was looking for in this one.