SAN ANTONIO, Tex – In the seconds before the tribute he climbed the board at the AT & T Center, a big fan, wearing a massive cowboy hat, wanted to be clear about his expectations:
"Everyone is ready to explode!"
They were and they did.
Until the game began, San Antonio's new favorite DeMar DeRozan and his new friends both dismantled the old team as a child would be a spider.
Then Spurs fans welcomed the applause of those who were justified, those who proved right, at least for one night.
The victories from Spurs 125-107 in front of the Raptors were unambiguous in this way. The Spurs gave the old team to DeRozan and the new Leonard team a deep shot. DeRozan's fingers were everywhere.
"It was fun, it was very fun," DeRozan said after putting his first double career in a masters show against his old team. "[Playing the Raptors] it was not hard at all. I was not nervous, it was very fun. Going there, confronting old teammates, messing with them, was certainly fun.
For DeRozan and Spurs. Leonard might wonder what he was involved with.
In a game where the emotions were high and the attention was focused on seeing who would answer and how, the Raptors came out as if it were just another Thursday. Ho-hum, another night on TNT.
"It's frustrating just because [of the way] you play, "Leonard said [like] any other game. We want to be better. We want the next game to do the same thing every night we go to this floor. We want to be a better team. I did not do a good job at all. "
The Spurs Nation came ready to defend itself. No matter what Leonard did at the exit of San Antonio, Spurs fans made it very personally.
One of the clips of the video to two Spurs who have long served and helped the franchise to win the final title was Leonard embracing Larry O'Brien's trophy in 2014. Leonard was the final MVP.
In another he sinks for a free ball in traffic.
Every time they showed him his face, the crowd had shattered his broken heart.
Danny Green? He did not have these problems. Every move of the current Raptor and the former Spur made on video and in real time he was cheerful. They chanted the name during the introductions before the game.
Leonard was not as lucky. No – it was not at def-con Vince Carter back to the ACC level – but maybe it's hard to get enough that worked when your team won five NBA titles.
Leonard argued that it was to be expected and that he was crazy: "I embraced him and I enjoyed this moment and he will only do me better."
It is cliché to say that there is electricity in the building on such nights when pure passion breaks through the inevitable tide that is part of a long program of 82 games.
But that was beyond that.
It was a fallen high voltage line that ran back and forth on the sidewalk, the sparks flying. But Spursii got burned. Raptors were burned.
And if someone forgot who really had reasons to feel unhappy about how everything was out of season, DeRozan remembered recalling the damn planet.
"I mean you have to develop at such times," said DeRozan who heard a few "MVP" songs during the game. "You have to like to play in this kind of atmosphere, whether it's at home or on the road. It's kind of a fuel and it makes you go, that's what makes it so fun."
The raptors traded Leonard-DeRozan because they believed – and almost any statistical or anecdotal evidence would support that belief – that Leonard was the best player in the business, one of the best in basketball.
It could be true.
But on Thursday in San Antonio, DeRozan was the player in the full command of his game. He was the one who raised his teammates and levitated the building.
It was a spectacular thing, and not at all unknown, except that DeRozan was going in silver-black, not red-and-black. He was brilliant, the 21 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists saying only part of the story.
He did the best work before the break, becoming the first Spur, since Tim Duncan had at least 15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in the first 24 minutes on his way to his statistical round, 10 years.
"I told him it was time," Spurs team coach Gregg Popovici said. "I did. I just told her I said it was time to have a double triple.
Answer the bell? It was the best first half – from a statistical point of view – DeRozan could ever have been on the road to one of his most competitive games ever. It's probably not a coincidence, though it was helped by a defensive approach from Raptors – Spurs shot 55.3 percent of the floor and 48.1 percent of the depth – which has not been seen since LeBron James and Cleveland Cavaliers were leading a line of play against Raptors in the playoffs. Only this time, DeRozan played LeBron's role.
At one point in the first quarter, DeRozan was found isolated by Serge Ibaka in the three-point line, of course. Raptor's top raptor has shaken and made his thighs, leaving Ibaka in error, after which DeRozan left a float to go so high that it was as if the ball itself stopped at the top the score clock to give your finger to anyone who thinks it sells it was a good idea.
It was a trick that was as ridiculous and arrogant as any dunk he could throw down – though he was one of these people.
But as DeRozan's scream roared from the roofs, Leonard, the strong silent one, struggled to find his voice. Even worse, Kyle Lowry's retailer, who lost his ninth game in his last ten with a backward turn, was not a choir long.
The Spurs sent two and three defenders to Leonard in the usual, safe way, knowing that no one appeared to help him with the heavy lifting. They packed the pain and barely waved at three-point shooting.
Why bother? Raptors have proved this year that they are not a dangerous team in three points – 34.1% out of three, 25th in the NBA – and Spurs were only 6 out of 30.
"To start the game, two, three, four, three open openings that come in and out. They get down and get three, one, three, and one, and that's just a recipe for disaster," said the guard from Raptors, Fred Van Vleet, who started in the place of Lowry. "There are other reasons that obviously have to be better that we will do internally. But if you lose photos and take pictures, it's just that simple.
Raptors followed 38-19 at the end of the first quarter and 50-25 with 8:19 to play in the second. They managed to get the deficit to 67-51 by half, but Spurs went on a 12-0 run by orchestrated three DeRozan assistants and any hope for a comeback was largely canceled.
It was undoubtedly a nice ransom for DeRozan, who said that before he was trading in Toronto, it was as if you knew you would not marry the face of your dreams. The referee dictates the free kick. Popovici called for DeRozan to be "a god".
But for Raptors it was a disaster or a version of the regular season. Of course, part of their recruiting pitch to Leonard is that he has arrived with a franchise that is ready to win and win big. It can not be encouraging that in the biggest game of the season, in which the emotions were the highest, the Raptors collapsed.
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Leonard was reasonably efficient, finishing with 21 points on 13 photos and adding five nurses, but he had no help. Lowry was not available to go to battle with him and his emerging story of being 33 years old old backhoe can not be the most encouraging sign when it comes to Raptors' evaluation for short or long-for success . Elsewhere, Raptors looked like a team equipped with role-playing, no one could step up at this point. Even Green – the hardcore battle, playing in the gym at home – seemed affected because he lost all seven photographs he had taken and was -26, the worst night.
Meanwhile, Spurs (22-17) seemed as fluid and damp as ever, a plug-and-play talent collection that won for the 11th time in 14 games. Four starters had over 19 points, while Rudy Gay had 13 places. It seems DeRozan had an option and took advantage of everything.
Leonard just wanted to oversee Lowry.
While Raptors' fans will spend most of the season, wondering if Leonard might be staying after a humiliating return to San Antonio, Leonard might ask why he ever went and where he was going.
Meanwhile, when the watch on the video board exploded at DeRozan, relaxing after a good night. Smiling. He looked happy.