It was almost a storybook ending for DeMar DeRozan. The San Antonio Spurs guard put on a brilliant performance in his first game in Toronto since the Raptors dealt him to the Spurs in exchange for Kawhi Leonard last July, scoring 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting to go along with eight assists. DeRozan even had his team in position to win the game, as he dribbled up the court leading by one with just under 20 seconds left to play.
But alas, it wasn't meant to be.
After being bothered by former teammate (and good friend) Kyle Lowry, DeRozan slipped just before halfcourt, losing the ball directly into the gigantic hands of Leonard, who then threw down an easy dunk to give his team the lead.
Despite the slip, DeRozan had a chance to redeem himself on the ensuing possession. Instead of taking the final shot as he got within about six feet of the rim, however, he passed to Davis Bertans, who missed a fall-away jumper and the Raptors escaped with a 120-117 win.
It was a rough ending to what was otherwise a great night for DeRozan. Not only did he play well, but he also received a rousing standing ovation from the Toronto fans when he was introduced before the game. Unfortunately for him, the ending will overshadow all of that.
The final stretch was particularly telling considering that the DeRozan-Leonard swap was almost universally considered an upgrade for the Raptors because of DeRozan's history of poor playoff performances. Fair or not, DeRozan has a reputation as somewhat of a choke artist when the bright lights are shining, and has been blamed for the Raptors' disappointing playoff defeats in recent years.
So the fact that Leonard, an NBA champion and Finals MVP brought in to take Toronto to the next level, ended up getting the steal from DeRozan and scoring the game-winning basket -- in a nationally televised game -- fit the narrative to a T. It remains to be seen how the Raptors will perform with Kawhi this postseason, or how DeRozan will do if the Spurs make the playoffs, but DeRozan's late struggles on Friday highlighted the underlying issues that ultimately led to his departure from the city he called home for nine seasons.