TORONTO • Kawhi Leonard got booed in his return to San Antonio last month. It was a much different story for DeMar DeRozan in Toronto on Friday night.
Raptors star Leonard scored a game-high 25 points and stole the ball from San Antonio's DeRozan at mid-court for the go-ahead dunk as Toronto held on to beat the Spurs 120-117 in the National Basketball Association match.
"Tonight was like a play-off game," Leonard said of the intensity of the clash at the Scotiabank Arena.
He scored the final four points for the Raptors, including his steal and dunk off DeRozan with 15 seconds to go with the game on the line.
DeRozan tried to carry the ball up court but slipped while being pressured. Leonard snatched the ball for the uncontested dunk to give the Raptors a one-point lead, 118-117. He then sank two free throws to seal it.
It all added up to a night of mixed emotions, but for DeRozan - who had a team-high 23 points - the ending could have been better.
"It came down to a couple of plays. It sucks that the critical play was me turning the ball over. But for the most part, I think it was a hell of a game," he said on ESPN.
This was his first trip back to Toronto since the trade in the offseason between the two teams that saw the two Los Angeles area products being swopped for each other.
The sold-out crowd of 20,060 gave DeRozan two standing ovations. The first took place during team introductions and the second came halfway through the first quarter when the Raptors honoured him with a video tribute during a stoppage in play.
"DeMar did a great job here with his nine-year run," said Leonard. "He was leading all the stats with Raptors all the time and the fans came out and showed him love."
DeRozan is the Raptors' all-time leader in points (13,296), field goals (4,716), free throws (3,539), games (675) and wins (353).
"It made it exciting, made it fun to go out there, play and compete," DeRozan added of his warm reception.
"I think that this was just that last little piece of closure for me... Being able to come back here, see familiar faces, and get that burden kind of off my shoulders.
"It's an honour. It's been practically my whole career here. To come back and get a reception like that is definitely humbling, beyond gratifying, and I appreciate it.
Leonard could only fantasise about getting the same warm welcome when the teams met on Jan 3 in San Antonio for the first time since the trade.
He scored 21 points in a 125-107 San Antonio win and was booed by the Spurs fans. DeRozan recorded his first career triple-double in that game with 21 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists.
While Leonard asked for a trade out of San Antonio, DeRozan was stunned by the deal. After re-signing with the Raptors in 2016 he said he wanted to be a Raptor for life.
Pascal Siakam added 22 points to help Toronto (44-16) extend their winning streak to seven straight with the win.
Marco Belinelli scored 21 points for San Antonio (33-27), who have lost five of six.