You don’t need to spend much time in San Antonio to learn it’s both a Spurs city and a wrestling town, a funny contrast when you consider that one kind of fandom has embraced an antiseptic on-court product and the other revels in all the extracurricular, character-driven drama one can get. Last season blurred that line, as the face of the franchise turned heel in a way that felt both scripted and frustratingly ambiguous. In the end, two teams’ fortunes turned, some feelings were hurt, and we’re still not sure why it all happened.
A year later, the Kawhisis sets the stage for a night that should feel significantly more pro wrestling than usual in the AT&T Center. That Kawhi Leonard makes his homecoming alongside the not-so-maligned Danny Green — on one of the league's top teams no less — will make for a spectrum of gestures, cheers, jeers and other overtures that should be worth tuning into on their own. The game will also be a reunion for the two former Raptors the Spurs got back in the trade. Unlike the man he replaced, DeMar DeRozan readily shows his emotions and hasn’t made a secret the inflated importance of tonight’s game.
Revenge is a dish best served cold...— DeMar DeRozan (@DeMar_DeRozan) September 20, 2018
The basketball should be pretty good, too.
January 3, 2019, 7:00pm
Watch: TNT | Listen: WOAI
San Antonio Spurs (21-17) vs. Toronto Raptors (27-11)
San Antonio Spurs: Dejounte Murray (OUT - torn right ACL), Rudy Gay (Day to Day - sore wrist)
Toronto Raptors: Jonas Valanciunas (OUT - thumb), Kyle Lowry (OUT - back)
An up-close look at the new Raptors
Leonard comes into tonight fresh off a career-high 45-point showing against the Jazz, a new high in what has in many ways been his best pro season after spending most of last year on the shelf. His game remains mostly the same as it was during his tenure in San Antonio, although he has shown off a tighter handle. More or less a throw-in in the trade, Green is having his best season since 2014-15, because of course he is. That includes leading the entire NBA in offensive rating to complement his known contributions on the defensive end.
Who starts off guarding Kawhi?
Dante Cunningham’s fallen out of the rotation, but he’s still been tabbed as recently as the Sixers game two weeks ago to add size and defensive chops on the wing. Pop’s preferred lineup as of late has DeMar DeRozan at the three and Derrick White at the two, neither of whom are necessarily ideal for throwing at Leonard. Neither for that matter is Rudy Gay, who missed the game versus Boston and may still not be ready to go tonight.
Winning starts inside
This is always an important part of the formula for SA, but one of the Raptors’ few weaknesses right now with Valanciunas on the sidelines is in facing teams who can exploit their size advantage. Consider their recent struggles against Joel Embiid, Hassan Whiteside and Nikola Vucevic and hope that LaMarcus Aldridge will have similar success. The more Toronto can force the Spurs to try and create from the outside in, the tougher time the Spurs will have.
Tribute Video Watch
According to the Express-News’ Jeff McDonald, the team has prepared something for tonight but it remains unclear what it is or if it’ll get shown. Whatever they do or don’t do to pay homage to Green and Leonard, it’s just another detail that’s sure to get scrutinized after the game.
Vegas Line: Spurs by 1.5
Game Prediction: Spurs by 10
For the Raptors’ perspective, check out Raptors HQ.
PtR’s Gamethread will be up this afternoon for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.