It’s not often that such an on-the-nose metaphor for an event that happened outside of a basketball court takes place in such a venue, but that’s exactly what happened in the dying embers of Toronto’s game against San Antonio on Friday night.
Former Raptor DeMar DeRozan rebounded a missed Serge Ibaka free throw with 24.9 seconds left on the clock. With his team up one point, DeRozan took his time getting up the floor with former Spur Kawhi Leonard shadowing him the whole way up. Just before the two got to midcourt, Leonard lunged for a steal, which forced the current San Antonio guard to try and spin around his defender. Through a combination of a slip of the right foot, defensive help from a former teammate and the absurdly-focused limbs of Leonard, DeRozan stumbled, fell and gave up the ball at the worst possible time. Leonard thanked him for his latest gift to the city of Toronto with an emphatic dunk to retake the lead.
This obviously isn’t a perfect metaphor for the blockbuster trade that went down in July between these teams. The Spurs won the last match up and even with the help of some major improvements since that game was played—Kyle Lowry actually played, Danny Green actually made a field goal, and Serge Ibaka was an absolute monster on the boards —the Raptors still had to fight until the bitter end for this win.
But victories all count the same in the league, regardless of the margin a team won by, so that doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. Toronto is in a significantly better position in its conference’s standings than San Antonio is. The Raptors are one game better than they were last year even with a new coach and roster, and sit second in the East behind only a re-tooled Bucks team that has Giannis Antetokounmpo playing at an MVP-caliber level. The Spurs, on the other hand, are seventh in the West and in a section of the standings where the difference between seventh and 10th could be a couple games at most.
In that same vein, it didn’t matter if Leonard allowed DeRozan to have 23 points on 12 shots with eight assists as long as he got the clutch steal at the end. The numbers don’t really matter if there aren’t results to show for it—like how going 59-23 in the regular season and getting the first seed in the playoffs doesn’t mean shit if you still get swept by LeBron.
This also works in other, less cynical, ways. For example, a player can have the offensive game of a 2004 All-Star, not win anything of substance and still capture the adoration of a fan base that holds onto that sentiment for a long time. Results like that were seen in the two standing ovations DeRozan received in his return to Toronto.
Truly a touching moment (unless they were just thanking him for bringing Leonard over).