In one of the most anticipated revenge games of the 2018-19 season, Kawhi Leonard went back to the arena he called home for 7 seasons, but this time as a Toronto Raptor, and was dominated by the DeMar DeRozan-led San Antonio Spurs, 125-107.
With the San Antonio crowd chanting “traitor” while Leonard was at the free throw line, and booing the former Finals MVP every time he laid a finger on the ball, DeRozan netted his first career triple-double with 21 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists in the win.
Kawhi didn’t have a bad game by any means, also putting up 21 points, but it was DeRozan who held down the Alamo, and held off his former team. With a performance as big as this one at home, there’s no telling just how bonkers DeRozan will go when he returns to The 6 on February 22.
The Leonard-for-DeRozan trade rocked summer headlines, so there were sure to be many eyes on the first meeting between these two teams. Kawhi was the biggest story going into this game, but here are three takeaways other than Kawhi being back in San Antonio:
Kyle Lowry’s value
It’s no secret that Kyle Lowry was missed in the Raptors’ first matchup against the Spurs. Lowry has missed 9 of the Raptors’ last 10 games with a back injury with the team going 5-5 in that stretch. While Leonard is claimed to be the best two-way player on the team — and possibly even in the entire Eastern Conference when healthy — there’s no doubt how much Lowry means to the Raps.
Aside from his deep-rooted connection with the franchise, and having been there for their playoff shortcomings, Lowry has been the engine and leader of this year’s iteration, and that was especially evident in the beginning of this season.
Through the first ten games, Lowry averaged 19 points per game on nearly 50% shooting from the field and over 40% from the three-point line. He didn’t just improve the offense by pouring in points, he ran the offense by averaging 11.6 assists in that stretch as well.
While he’s cooled off on shooting, he’s averaging a solid 14.4 points per game on the season, and nearly a double-double with 9.8 assists. It’s true that Leonard is the best player on the Raptors, but Lowry’s value was as clear as ever when he was forced to sit on the sidelines instead of compete against his best friend in DeRozan.
Spurs to the playoffs?
With Leonard missing the vast majority of games last year, the Spurs failed to reach 50 games — a staple in San Antonio’s franchise. This season, there’s been talk of the Spurs possibly missing the playoffs for the first time since drafting Tim Duncan in 1997.
After the win against the Raptors however, San Antonio is 22-17, 7-3 in their last ten games, and on a three-game winning streak. Their record is good enough for 7th place in the West and with an impressive performance against the second-best team in the East, there’s a real possibility that they can avoid dropping out of the top-8 and prove their critics wrong.
Gregg Popovich’s excellence is a certainty, and he’ll always be able to get a quality team out of his roster, but even with a tandem of DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, some thought that losing Leonard, Tony Parker, and Kyle Anderson to new teams, and young point guard, Dejounte Murray to injury would be too much to handle.
The Spurs are the #1-ranked team in three-point percentage, albeit ranked 28th in attempts, but leave it to Popovich to make the most of squeezing all the juice out of the mid-range game, and leapfrogging the Los Angeles Lakers in the standings so far.
New team, better DeMar?
If you look at DeMar DeRozan’s stats for this season so far and compare them to last season, you won’t notice many differences. His three-point shooting percentage is way down, but he was never a shooter from that range anyway. Two pretty significant jumps he’s made since being in San Antonio though, are in assists and rebounds.
DeRozan has upped his average in both categories by two — 6.3 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game this season — and after getting the first triple-double in his 10-year career, the kid from Compton seems to be making strides towards becoming a complete player.
DeRozan ranks 4th in rebounds per games for guards, and as he’s steadily improved his rebounding numbers with every season of his career thus far, he’s averaging a career-high with the Spurs. He’s in the top five for percentage of points mid-range, but in Popovich’s system, it’s a strength in today’s game of threes and layups.
It’ll be tough for DeMar to make the All-Star team with so many guards in the West seen as locks like Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, but DeRozan is not only staying relevant in his new uniform, he’s becoming even better than he ever was.