As much as NBA players would have you believe that every game is just another game, its hard to say Sunday’s game between the Raptors and the visiting Spurs didn’t have some extra spice behind it.
Raptors star Pascal Siakam made a much-awaited return to the lineup after battling a groin injury as he faced off against a franchise icon in DeMar DeRozan. Two eras of Raptors’ success facing off against each other. And although Siakam made the opening statement, DeRozan finished way stronger, willing the Spurs to an intensely fought road victory.
Siakam started the game red-hot, scoring 12 points in the first quarter after 7 minutes. DeRozan on the other hand, who had been coming off a tremendous 10 game stretch only got up a single shot, scoring 0 points in the first quarter.
Siakam’s return and intensity of play were immediately apparent throughout the arena. Every score had fans roaring, turning the commentator’s conversation into barely audible babble. Siakam’s outburst poured energy and enthusiasm into the Raptors squad that had been sorely lacking over the past few games. And that energy manifested itself on the court as the Spurs had no answer for the Raptors offensive and defensive pressure in the first half.
The Raptors held the Spurs to just 21 points in the first quarter and under 50 points by half time. On offence, Lowry, Ibaka, and Powell (another player returning from injury) all scored in double-figures. Ibaka finished the game with 21 points and 14 rebounds while Powell added another 20. Many considered the game a foregone conclusion at this point as although Siakam had cooled off from his hot start, his initial spark had the Raptors firing on all cylinders.
However, DeRozan and the Spurs were not going to give the Raptors the perfect Cinderella story. DeRozan erupted for 14 points in the third quarter which included a few vicious dunks through the middle of the lane. Before Raptors fans could finish reminiscing about the good old days when the shooting guard was making those same plays for Toronto, the lead was gone. After trailing by as much as 18 points, the Spurs made a 15-0 run to take back the lead.
DeRozan continued his hot hand into the fourth quarter, nailing key free throws. Siakam, on the other hand, missed a wide-open layup attempt at the rim. Siakam who had started the first quarter with 12 points, finished the game with 15, failing to come up big in multiple key moments. DeRozan did the opposite, sticking it to the Raptors while leading the Spurs with 25 points and 8 rebounds.
Unfortunately for Siakam and the Raptors, they will have wait till their game against the Thunder on Wednesday to make a true, triumphant return. Obviously, Siakam deserves a small pass considering it’s his first game back from injury but his poor shooting efficiency and fumbling in key moments are not unique to just this game. Clearly, Siakam’s return puts the Raptors back in playoff contender status but only time will tell whether Siakam can do something former Raptor, DeRozan, could not. Lead the Raptors to a deep playoff run or championship as the main guy.
DeRozan on the other hand, who had enjoyed a beautiful tribute video on the big screen earlier in the game, will consider this yet another cherish-able memory in the Scotiabank Arena. Only this time at the Raptors expense.