TORONTO -- The defining moment of DeMar DeRozan's emotional return to Toronto came, poetically, when Kawhi Leonard forced a turnover, yanked the ball out of his hands, and coasted the other way for a game-winning dunk with 15.1 seconds remaining in a 120-117 Raptors victory over the Spurs.
The truth, however, is that DeRozan outplayed Leonard the majority of Friday's game, finishing with 23 points, eight assists, four rebounds, two steals, and a block on an uber-efficient 7-of-12 shooting. On the other end, Leonard bricked 15 of his 23 field-goal attempts.
The Spurs smartly used screens to switch Leonard off of DeRozan, and DeRozan once again showed off his improved playmaking by finding shooters when the Raptors trapped him - a lesson learned from his many postseason trials, and failures, in Toronto.
Sure, Leonard and old pal Kyle Lowry got the best of him down the stretch, with Lowry stopping DeRozan in the post on one crunch-time possession before helping Leonard come up with the game-winning steal. But on a night when Leonard didn't look like he had his legs under him for two or three quarters, the difference was Toronto's embarrassment of riches - a collection of talent directly linked to the Raptors going all-in the moment Masai Ujiri agreed to swap DeRozan for Leonard.
"When you look at them on paper, and then see them on the court, they're definitely deep," Spurs guard Patty Mills told theScore following the loss.
Danny Green, acquired with Leonard in the deal that sent DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl to San Antonio, scored 17 points on the night after dropping four of his five 3-pointers in the first half. Green was instrumental in the victory, keeping the Spurs at arm's length and the Raptors afloat when the rest of their offense ran dry.
Pascal Siakam, whose rapid development this season has made it rather unbelievable the Raptors were able to retain him while acquiring Leonard, Green, and Marc Gasol over the last seven months, was the best player on the court through three quarters, finishing with 22 points on 70 percent shooting.
Then there's Gasol and Jeremy Lin.
The former, acquired in a deadline-day blockbuster that sent fan favorites Jonas Valanciunas and Delon Wright (along with C.J. Miles) to Memphis, struggled with his own offense and committed five personal fouls in only 17 minutes. But, he also dished out six assists over that span, which led to 15 Raptors points and kept Toronto's sometimes stagnant attack flowing. The latter scored as many points during the first 5:08 of the fourth quarter as the entire Spurs team did (nine), sparking a 20-11 run while many of the starters watched from the bench.
"They added two smart basketball players who can make plays for themselves and others," Spurs forward Rudy Gay said of Lin and Gasol. "I've played with Marc, I know how he can play. He's one of the best centers in the league, moves the ball, plays the right way. When you're trying to win a championship, you need players like that."
It's not that the Raptors weren't trying to win while DeRozan was around, but the acquisition of Leonard, an MVP-caliber talent on an expiring contract, put them on a different playing field. It's the type of stage where you go all-in and trade for a potentially expiring Gasol without batting an eye, then attract arguably the top buyout market candidate available (Lin) a week later.
It's a playing field where good isn't good enough anymore, which was the entire reason behind the DeRozan-for-Leonard trade that set this whole thing in motion in the first place.
DeRozan received the thunderous, lengthy ovation his time in Toronto deserved on Friday, but on a night when Leonard and the Raptors were far from their best, he and the Spurs still came up short. Following the final buzzer, DeRozan left Toronto with a fitting soundbite the day after he compared the end of his Raptors tenure to a breakup.
"Damn, she's still fine as hell," he said of his former team.
Unfortunately for DeRozan, she's never been finer.