In his return to Toronto, DeMar DeRozan seemed on a mission to prove to the franchise that traded him that they have made a mistake. He was in control, showing off his passing ability and poise en route to an efficient 23-point, eight-assist night. It seemed like he was about to lead San Antonio to an unlikely season series sweep over the Raptors, as he dribbled up court with the Spurs up one with a few seconds left.
Unfortunately the basketball gods have a twisted sense of humor and a complete disregard for subtlety. The man that was sent out because he failed to deliver in the biggest moments for Toronto slipped facing a double team featuring his best friend and his replacement, turned the ball over and gifted the Raptors a 120-117 win.
It’s a shame that DeRozan’s turnover with 16 seconds to go will unfortunately be the lasting memory on a game in which the Spurs played better than expected. After a sloppy start — understandable considering both teams were coming back from the break and the emotional nature of the matchup — San Antonio looked as good on the road as it has in recent weeks. Despite a quiet night from LaMarcus Aldridge and the starting guards, they played one of the best teams in the East close, always having an answer for every Raptors’ run and displaying stretches of stout defensive play. As far as losses go, this one would have been a thoroughly encouraging one had it not come about the way it did.
There was still plenty to be excited about, including DeRozan’s play. He didn’t try to do too much, always looking ready to move the ball when doubled and when his drives made the defense collapse. He was the best version of himself for most of the game, taking good shots, looking in control when going to the rim and being active, if not particularly effective, on defense. Without his steady play, along with some scorching hot shooting from the bench, the Spurs would have not been able to keep up with the Raptors in the first half. Toronto simply neutralized LaMarcus Aldridge from the start, by sending help whenever Serge Ibaka needed it, but couldn’t do the same to DeMar. The Spurs, meanwhile, did a terrific job of keeping Kawhi Leonard from going off early by throwing different looks at him, including assigning Patty Mills to him and having help at the ready.
Leonard and the Raptors eventually adjusted to the Spurs’ trickery and threatened to run away with it in the third quarter. With Kawhi and Paskal Siakam overwhelming their defenders, Toronto got a seven-point lead. But the Spurs refused to die. With the same weapons with which they kept the game close in the first half — DeRozan and the bench, mostly — they made a run to erase the deficit. It would take the Raptors a while to turn things around, and the boost they needed would come from an unlikely place. After struggling for most of the game, their bench made a positive impact late. Jeremy Lin was the spark plug, providing more ball handling to an offense that needed it to break down the Spurs’ defense. Once again it looked like the Raptors were headed to an easy win when they got a six-point lead with six minutes to go in the fourth, but once again San Antonio responded.
The final minutes were dramatic but DeRozan, who had played a smart, efficient game, seemed on his way to being the hero after finding Marco Belinelli for a three-pointer that gave the Spurs a two-point lead with 44 seconds to go. Serge Ibaka missed the second free throw in the following trip and DeMar got the rebound with essentially 24 seconds to go. Then, the fateful moments. Turnover to give the Raptors the lead on the breakaway, then a failure to get separation on the would-be game-winner, which Davis Bertans ended up attempting after DeMar picked up his dribble and passed him the ball in desperation.
It has to be a painful loss for the Spurs, and especially DeRozan. But hopefully they understand that they can’t dwell on it. They simply have to move on. A win against the Knicks on Sunday won’t be as sweet as one in Toronto would have been, but it counts the same in the standings. At this point, that’s all that matters.
- Let’s get it out of the way: Kawhi Leonard absolutely committed a backcourt violation after the inbound with one second left. It was pretty obvious, too. It probably didn’t change the outcome of the game, but it was strange that it wasn’t called.
- LaMarcus Aldridge was completely ineffective. The Raptors deserve credit for guarding him well, but he should have been a bit more assertive asking for the ball. The four offensive rebounds were nice, though.
- Derrick White returned to action and looked rusty, as expected. He had a good stretch in the fourth quarter, but in general wasn’t good. Again, it’s understandable. It will take him a while to get his rhythm back.
- Rudy Gay had a double-double, with 12 points and 10 rebounds despite playing just 24 minutes. Bryn Forbes was good on the first half, then faded in the second. It feels like i’s been a while since the entire starting lineup plays well.
- Fortunately the bench continues to be great. Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli, Davis Bertans and Jakob Poeltl combined for 60 points, 21 boards and seven assists. I still don’t like it when Forbes plays with those four because the offense becomes too reliant on off-the-dribble three-pointers, but when those looks are falling, the Spurs can put points on the board in a hurry.
- Our old friend Kawhi Leonard started 1-for-12 from the field but finished with 25 points in 23 shots and the game-winner. Danny Green,meanwhile, went 5-for-7 from beyond the arc. Good performances for the former Spurs.
Up next: @Knicks on Sunday
The game in New York should be a win. The Knicks are bad and the Spurs need the W to stave off a potential push from the Kings and Lakers.