SAN ANTONIO – It was a night full of emotion, especially from Spurs fans, as they defeated the Toronto Raptors 125-107 in Kawhi Leonard's much anticipated return to San Antonio.
Leonard and Danny Green returned for the first time since the pair was traded to Toronto for DeMar Derozan and Jakob Poeltl.
The fans were relentless and took the opportunity to boo Leonard every time he touched the ball. They also chanted "traitor" to Leonard at various times during the game.
They even booed him whenever he touched the ball during pregame warmups and during a tribute video the Spurs played before the game to recognize Leonard and Green for their contributions to the team and the city.
"I felt badly about it. Kawhi is a high-character guy, we all make decisions in our lives, what we are going to do with out futures and he has that same right as any of us," said Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich.
"I wasn't expecting that, I was kind of expecting them to give some type of applause," said Bryn Forbes.
That emotion seemed to have an effect on both sides. Leonard started the game only hitting 2 of 4 shots with two turnovers. He finished with 21 points.
Kawhi Leonard postgame after #Raptors loss to #Spurs...said fan reception was mostly expected because media stirred controversy, added he didn't see tribute video, but might in the future...Leonard finishes with 21 points in first return to San Antonio #KSATsports #KSATnews #NBA pic.twitter.com/kqLGwHQsDh— RJ Marquez (@KSATRJ) January 4, 2019
Leonard said the fan reaction was not completely unexpected. "The media does a great job to stir up people's minds and to influence them to think a certain way, so I already knew how that was going to be," Leonard said.
At the other end, the Spurs proceeded to blow it open early, going up 23 in the first quarter thanks to a big night from DeRozan.
He had nine points in the first quarter. He then went on to finish with his first career triple-double, scoring 21 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and dishing out 11 assists.
"I know I came close a bunch of times this season, but you know to get it versus them was kind of cool," DeRozan said. "It is just about me wanting to be that guy that makes his teammates better around me as well."
"I told him it was about time, I did I just told him that. I said it was about time you had a triple-double," Popovich said.
Another player who could be destined for that same fate is second year guard Derrick White.
After scoring a career high 22 points against Boston on Monday, he scored 19 against Toronto while taking on the challenge of guarding Leonard.
"It wasn't just me. It was all the players working together, it wasn't one-on-one that's for sure," White said.
That game that was circled on the calendar for so many fans and a few players is now over, although the emotion for some may not have been what many expected.
"It was fun it was extremely fun going out there talking mess my old teammates, but it wasn't no emotion, it wasn't emotional at all for me, just a fun game," DeRozan said.
The Spurs' win was their third straight overall and put them five games above .500 for the first time this season.
They improved to 22-17 and host the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday.