There had to be drama after all the build-up and all the emotion and all the cathartic importance of the night.
And the Raptors and San Antonio Spurs provided it.
San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan, in his first game back in Toronto since the blockbuster trade for Kawhi Leonard, drives past Leonard in Friday night’s game at Scotiabank Arena. (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)
On an evening that included nearly a two-minute standing ovation, after a tribute video thanking DeMar DeRozan for nine years of dedication to the franchise, the game lived up to all its billing and hype.
And the stars were the stars.
DeRozan, Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry were all central to a terrifically dramatic finish as the Raptors won their seventh in a row, squeaking out a 120-117 win over the Spurs before an emotionally exhausted Scotiabank Arena crowd.
Lowry and Leonard conspired to double-team DeRozan at midcourt and force a turnover that led to a Leonard dunk and a 118-117 Raptors lead with 15.1 seconds left in the back-and-forth affair, a perfect end-of-game script.
“It was just: Be patient, don’t foul right away, try to get the trap first,” Lowry said post-game. “I was going no matter what. I turned him, and once he turned I went after the ball. One of us got our hand on it. I hit it up and (Leonard) grabbed it and we got going.”
Said coach Nick Nurse: “Really, really heads-up play by (Lowry).”
The Raptors got a stop on the next possession, and a video review showed Lowry was inbounds to secure possession after the missed shot with 1.1 seconds left. The Raptors got the ball inbounds after calling two timeouts to set up the play, and Leonard iced the game at the line.
DeRozan would finish with 23 points and seven assists, cheered by the sold-out crowd from the time he first walked on the court to warm up for the game.
“I thought it was a great game, a real competitive game,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “After a long break, (you’d think) you wouldn’t get something like that. It would take everybody a while to get back in the groove. I thought both teams started out a little bit slowly, but a really good, competitive game all the way around.”
Leonard will be quite glad to see the end of his former team for this season. Leonard missed 11 of his first 13 shots, held in check by a series of much smaller defenders than he’s used to seeing, before getting untracked a bit in the second half. He finished with 25 points on 8-for-23 shooting and two assists.
Good night, Nurse: Nurse wasn’t around the court to see the end of the game after being ejected with 3:33 left in the third quarter. Referee Marc Davis made a somewhat dubious blocking foul call on Toronto’s Danny Green, who had been bowled over by Marco Belinelli. Nurse lit into the officials after the call and during an immediate timeout to earn the first ejection of his NBA head coaching career. Lead assistant Adrian Griffin took over for the rest of the game.Standing pat: Nurse stuck with Serge Ibaka at starting centre, but he still maintains he might switch to Marc Gasol on the odd occasion. “We want to stay versatile,” Nurse said. “We want to use them both.” The versatility allows the coach to throw different defensive looks at opponents. “This, to me, feels like a little bit of a Joel Embiid situation (with the 76ers) where I’m telling Serge and Marc that it’s both you guys, man, go after this guy,” he said of the plan of defence on Spurs all-star LaMarcus Aldridge. “Both of you guys go after Aldridge here and let’s tag-team him and go get him, and Serge you do this thing, and Marc you do this well, and let’s go do that.” It didn’t work too well. Gasol picked up three fouls in his first five minutes and played only 17 minutes, finishing with five fouls and four points.Staying hot: The Raptors have already secured a winning record for February, their 15th straight winning month. It’s the longest current streak in the NBA, according to the team.Up next: OK, it’s not exactly the same, but Terrence Ross and Jeff Weltman are coming back as the Orlando Magic visit Scotiabank Arena on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Kind of a pre-Oscar red carpet party game.
Doug Smith is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @smithraps
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