TORONTO — DeMar DeRozan fantasized about the moment 24 hours before while in a roomful of reporters at the Four Seasons hotel, only to live it Friday at a packed Scotiabank Arena that welcomed back the former Toronto Raptor with the standing ovation he envisioned.
Just as fast, the fantasy devolved into a harsh reality for DeRozan, with him committing the turnover that cost the San Antonio Spurs the game with 16.9 seconds remaining in a 120-117 loss that soured his return to Toronto.
“It made it exciting, made it fun to go out there, play and compete,” DeRozan said of the reception while playing his first game in Toronto since the team traded him, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick to San Antonio in July for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. “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.”
Making the dramatic ending juicier was the fact DeRozan committed the turnover at midcourt after a missed Serge Ibaka free throw with San Antonio leading 117-116 and best friend Kyle Lowry guarding him along with Leonard. Leonard poked the ball loose as DeRozan attempted to advance the ball up the court, and then he raced the other way for a dunk to give the Raptors a 118-117 edge with 15.1 seconds remaining.
Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan is past the shock and anger of being traded by Toronto, but his first game back finds him searching within.
“I knew they were trying to be aggressive and trying to make a play on the ball and then foul,” DeRozan said. “I’ve still got to be more aware. I thought I got hit, but I should’ve just known that they were going to be aggressive. I saw Kyle lurking. In moments like that, you try to get aggressive, try to get a steal first. If not, then you foul regardless. It’s on me to be able to look ahead and try to read that.”
DeRozan then failed to capitalize on a potential opportunity to hit the game-winning shot on San Antonio’s next trip down the court. With Green guarding, DeRozan raced toward the rim and appeared to have a clear step on the defender. Instead of taking the shot, DeRozan dished to Davis Bertans, who misfired on an off-balance, 14-foot fadeaway shot with 2.8 seconds left.
DeRozan finished the game with 23 points and eight assists in 34 minutes.
“We just grinded away,” Leonard said. “Kyle told us we were going to win this game. We all believed that we were, and you know tonight was like a playoff game. We had to grind it out all the way to the end.”
Still, DeRozan would experience the joy of not just one but two standing ovations from a crowd that treated the guard as if he had never left town.
The first occurred during team introductions. The public-address announcer introduced San Antonio’s starting lineup, first calling out Rudy Gay, another former Raptor, before introducing DeRozan. Once DeRozan’s name was announced, the crowd rose to its feet and let out a roar of applause that lasted for more than 45 seconds. The crowd’s standing ovation drowned out the rest of the player introductions.
“It was good for him. He deserved that and more,” Gay said. “He did a lot for this city, this organization, and I believe he deserved every bit of cheers that he got.”
Then the arena went dark, with the crowd still standing and applauding DeRozan as officials cued up the team’s hype video. The crowd remained standing as Toronto’s hype video played on the scoreboard.
DeRozan received more love from the home crowd when he knocked down San Antonio’s first bucket of the night with 10:11 left in the opening quarter, after drawing a foul on Ibaka that sent him to the free throw line. DeRozan converted the three-point play, and Raptors fans cheered.
DeRozan’s second standing ovation came with 6:52 left in the opening quarter during a timeout with the Spurs trailing 12-10, when Toronto played a tribute video in his honor. The video featured several major moments in DeRozan’s career and included footage of the guard with his daughters, moments in NBA All-Star Games, several dunks, candid times with best friend and former teammate Lowry, and highlights from when Toronto advanced to the 2016 Eastern Conference finals.
The arena erupted with applause throughout the video, and the crowd stood throughout the timeout, even after the video closed with a graphic featuring DeRozan’s picture that read: “Thank You DeMar.”
“I think that this was just that last little piece of closure for me,” DeRozan said. “Being able to come back here, see familiar faces and get that burden kind of off my shoulders.”
DeRozan briefly walked back onto the court just after the video concluded to acknowledge the crowd then returned to the bench as the fans remained on their feet cheering. DeRozan’s second standing ovation lasted just under two minutes, and when the teams returned to the court to resume play, the crowd was still on its feet cheering.
“He was a complete class act, like he always is,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
At the end of the second ovation, a “Deebo” chant broke out and continued for several seconds. DeRozan wasn’t the only former Raptor-turned-Spur receiving love from the fans in Toronto.
With 10:06 remaining in the second quarter, the Raptors played a tribute video for Poeltl. While the crowd response wasn’t quite as intense, nearly half the arena was standing and cheering for the Raptors’ No. 9 overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft.
Selected ninth overall by the Raptors in the 2009 draft, DeRozan spent his first nine seasons in Toronto, becoming the franchise’s all-time leader in points (13,296), field goals made (4,716), free throws made (3,539), games played (675) and victories. DeRozan also earned four trips to the NBA All-Star Game (2014, ’16, ’17, ’18) as a Raptor, in addition to being named second-team All-NBA in 2018 and third-team in 2017.
“It’s an honor. It’s been practically my whole career here,” DeRozan said. “To come back and get a reception like that is definitely humbling, beyond gratifying, and I appreciate it. Walking down the floor [after the game] hit me more than anything.”