Late in May of 2018, as the Raptors found themselves facing a 0-3 hole to their Annual Kryptonite – LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto had one last run in them. We all watched as Kyle Lowry and his teammates made one last push before being ousted from the Playoffs yet again. So did DeMar DeRozan.
While it may not be fond, one of our last collective memories of Demar was that of him seated on the end of the Raptors bench with his hung head draped in a towel, as his teammates tired to overcome their nemesis without him. Before we knew it, we were awoken in the middle of a July night with reports that a DeRozan for Leonard trade was imminent. Just as quickly as we had recovered from the Raptor’s early playoff exit, the face of our franchise for so many years, was gone.
Now, for the first time in over 8 months, Demar DeRozan is coming home. The narratives are a little different this time around than DeRozan’s previous visits to the building formerly known as the Air Canada Center. He plays for a different team, who executes a style of offense which puts the ball in his hands less and moves at a more static pace than his Raptors team’s of old. His family – Kyle, Norm, Pascal, Freddy, Serge and the rest of the band will be going to war against, not with him.
One thing that’s not changing for Demar in Toronto? The love.
In his first appearance north of the Border since the trade, this evening’s game is shaping up to be an emotional one for all parties involved. But as for the on-court action, Raptor’s fans will hope that the players left all their reunion jitters in San Antonio the last time these teams met.
The Spurs emerged victorious from the first bout with the Raptors back on January 3rd, 125-107. Although, if you were watching that game, it felt as though Toronto lost by 100. Kawhi was unable to get it going amid the ruthless San Antonio reception, riddled with “Boos” and “Traitor” chants, whose jarring effects seemed to spillover to his teammates. On the other side of the ball, the Spurs dominated almost the entire game. DeRozan posted 21 points and his first ever career triple double, Aldridge chipped in 23 and six Spurs scored in double figures as San Antonio shot a blistering 48% from three and 55% from the floor in their vengeful route of Kawhi and the Raptors.
Tonight should be a special one for Lowry, who was unable to share the floor with his brother due to injury the last time these two teams met (I strongly recommend having a fresh box of Kleenex handy for that first on-court embrace between the former partners in crime). Lowry-DeRozan aren’t the only reunion of brothers we have in store for tonight’s festivities. The Gasol brothers will also meet for the first time since younger brother Marc was dealt to the Raptor’s at the trade deadline.
In professional athlete terms, this NBA sibling rivalry might be in the twilight hours, but Marc is just trying to enjoy the moment: “The older you get, the more you cherish it”, said the new Raptor when asked about facing his big brother for what could be one of the final times. “To me, you value it more. You understand how hard it is to play against your brother, and to do it at this stage for that long.”
While Demar was not selected for the All-Star game this year, only his second omission in the past six years, his coach has been very complementary of his contributions to the team amid their recent injury struggles, calling him “the one consistent factor” during their undermanned stretch. “He’s been our rock, a beast…Played night after night. He’s been fantastic,” Said Pop to the media after practice yesterday.
Beyond the fact that this is a monumental game for Toronto on an emotional level, the Raptors should have this one circled in red as they aim to capture the title of the Eastern Conference’s #1 seed. The Toronto Raptors have the easiest remaining schedule in terms of opponent’s winning percentage among all 30 teams. Winning the games they’re supposed to win and against the East’s basement dwellers should be a give-in, but getting a win against one of their tougher remaining opponents in San Antonio, sets the Raptors up with an even better chance to steal the one seed from the grasp of the Greek Freak.
Questions still linger about what the Raptor’s starting five will look like post All-Star break. When asked about starters for Friday’s game, Nurse would only confirm what we already knew to be true, saying that Lowry, Green, Leonard and Siakam will be starting. We’ll have to wait closer to tip to find out if Big Spain will make his starting debut like so many of us desperately want.
Game magnitude, lineup changes and X’s & O’s aside, make no mistake – Friday night will almost certainly be about one thing: thanking Demar DeRozan.
Don’t hold back your tears, as this game will surely be an emotional night for more than just Toronto.
Most players put in trying situations such as this one, show up with their best efforts to hide what might be brewing underneath the hood. But as you know, Demar isn’t like most players. He’s never been one to shy away from showing us his vulnerability and candid nature. It’s part of the reason he will always be Toronto, no matter what colour uniform is on his back.
Demar will walk out there not knowing exactly how the experience will make him feel. But however it does make him feel, you can be sure he won’t hide a second of it, and you shouldn’t either.
Enjoy this game. Moments like tonight are far and few between.
TV: TSN | Radio: TSN1050 | Tip-off: 7PM EST
Likely Starting Lineups
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: Danny Green
SF: Kawhi Leonard
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Serge Ibaka/Marc Gasol
PG: Bryn Forbes
SG: Demar DeRozan
SF: Rudy Gay
PF: Davis Bertans
C: LaMarcus Aldridge
Derrick White (Plantar Fasciitis) and LaMarcus Aldridge (Illness) are both listed as probable for tonight.
Fred VanVleet (Left Thumb) & Dejounte Murray (Torn ACL) are both out.