TORONTO — Kawhi Leonard played spoiler on DeMar DeRozan's emotional return to Toronto on Friday.
And exacted a measure a revenge against his former team a few weeks after he was furiously jeered on his former home floor.
Leonard, who was acquired in the blockbuster trade last summer that sent DeRozan to the Spurs, scored 25 points, including the breakaway go-ahead dunk after a steal off DeRozan with 15 seconds on the clock, and the Raptors held on to beat San Antonio 120-117.
"It was very important. I mean that put us up one point with about (15.1) seconds left or so. That's how games are," Leonard said. "It was (like) a playoff win for us. Everybody contributed. With me missing shots, everybody stepped up and made their shots on the double teams, and we got the win. We grinded it out."
Six players scored in double figures for the Raptors (44-16). Pascal Siakam had 22 points, Kyle Lowry and Danny Green had 17 apiece, Serge Ibaka finished with 13 and newcomer Jeremy Lin chipped in with 11 on a night that saw Raptors coach Nick Nurse ejected in the third quarter for vigorously arguing a call.
DeRozan finished with 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting for the Spurs.
The season's first meeting between the two teams had been ugly: a 125-107 Spurs rout on Jan. 3 in San Antonio where the Raptors let their emotions get the better of them, and Leonard was verbally bashed all night long by chants of "Traitor! Traitor!"
Leonard struggled early Friday, scoring 19 of his points in the second half.
Friday was more about the much-anticipated return of DeRozan, who was honoured by the team he played nine years with in an emotional video tribute during the game's first timeout.
"It made it exciting," DeRozan said. "It made it fun to go out there and play and compete. It was a heck of a game. It came down to a couple of plays.
He called the fan reaction "definitely humbling, beyond gratifying and I appreciate it. . . Walking off the floor hit me more than anything," he said, citing "the good, the bad, the ugly" of memories there.
It wasn't so much emotions that almost derailed the Raptors this time, but the rust in their first game after a nine-day NBA all-star break, and the continued chemistry-building with their recently-overhauled roster.
In a game that saw 16 lead changes, the Raptors led by no more than seven points through the first three quarters, despite draining a sizzling 12 three-pointers in the first half. They trailed 91-88 heading into the fourth.
Playing just his second game with Toronto since he was signed on Feb. 13, Lin sparked a fourth-quarter outburst scoring 10 of the Raptors' first 14 points. And when he fed Ibaka for a dunk with 5:25 to play it put the Raptors up by six.
The Spurs pulled to within a point, but with Lowry draped on his good friend DeRozan like a wet towel, the former Raptor turned the ball over and Leonard scored on Toronto's next possession, to the delight of the noisy Scotiabank Arena crowd that included TFC forward Jozy Altidore and his girlfriend/tennis player Sloane Stephens.
"It was fun, pretty fun," Lowry said. "Especially because we got the win. If we lost it would have been terrible."
The game came down to the thrilling final few seconds. Marco Belinelli drilled a three to put the Spurs up by two, then Ibaka hit one of two free throws making it a one-point Raptors deficit. Then DeRozan stumbled while dribbling the ball, Lowry batted the ball up, and Leonard scooped it up for the winning dunk, prompting a deafening roar from the crowd.
"(Lowry) told me he was going to poke at the ball and end up getting a hand on it, and he said he was coming right away. And we ended up with the steal," Leonard said.
DeRozan saw the play another way.
"Obviously Kyle, fat-ass, knows how to guard me," DeRozan joked of his friend.
Leonard wouldn't bite when asked if the victory was any sweeter against his former team.
"Every game is the same for me," he said. "I treat every game like it's Game 7 and I want to come out and win every ball game."
The referees threatened to spoil the fun when they briefly ruled Lowry had stepped out of bounds when he hauled in a defensive rebound with a second on the clock, but they reversed the decision upon video review.
Nurse's technical, meanwhile, tied him with New York's David Fizdale for the most technicals this season (eight).
"A lot more relaxing. It was," Nurse said, on watching from his office. "I was cheering hard and it was a little funny because they were five or six seconds ahead of me in the lobby, my office was behind a little bit. I heard a 'Yes!' on Pascal's tip-in or something."
The rust from the long layoff was obvious early on Friday as the Raptors shot just 32 per cent in the first quarter but still led for most of the frame. The Spurs took a brief lead but Lin sent a no-look back pass to Ibaka who finished with a three, and the Raptors led 26-23 heading into the second.
A three-pointer by Belinelli capped a 15-3 San Antonio run that put the visitors up by six points. Thanks largely to their three-point shooting, the Raptors pulled to within a point, trailing 56-55 at halftime.
The Raptors stretched their lead to seven midway through the third but couldn't put the Spurs away, and when former Raptor Rudy Gay drained two free throws, the two points put the Spurs up by five. A driving layup by Lowry cut the deficit to three with one quarter left.
The Raptors play their next three at home, hosting the Orlando Magic on Sunday, the Boston Celtics on Tuesday, and Portland Trail Blazers on March 1.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press