Leonard prepares for emotional night in return to San Antonio
- Author: Steve Townsend Jan 05, 2019,
Jan 05, 2019, 1:57
Thursday night was Leonard's first game in San Antonio as a visitor and was welcomed with a cascade of boos almost every time he touched the ball, and weathered a "traitor" chant from the fans as well.
Despite pregame comments from Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich and longtime guard Patty Mills about treating Leonard with respect and class during his return, fans were not ready to forget the way Leonard forced his way out of town. No, not at all.
And his old coach, I'm guessing, will always have a special place in his heart for Leonard for what they accomplished together.
Somewhat fittingly, DeRozan accomplished the feat against his former team, the Toronto Raptors.
"I had no idea he was that good of a passer, but he's been one of our better guys playing downhill, attracting a crowd and finding teammates", Popovich said.
It remains clear that people associated with the Spurs are not happy with the way the situation went down last season, and that includes general manager R.C. Buford, who also included Danny Green in the deal for a return of DeRozan, centre Jakob Poeltl and a 2019 first-round pick. He would go on to record a double-double in one half for the first time in his career as he entered the break with 19 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. He's just the fifth player in National Basketball Association history to post a triple-double in his first game against a former team. "So I felt badly, honestly", Popovich said of the booing.
Toronto (28-11) has spent most of the season atop the Eastern Conference but is now second behind Milwaukee (26-10) based on winning percentage. "We'll see tonight, I don't know".
"It really wasn't [anything]", he said.
Leonard, who spent eight seasons with the Spurs and was part of an NBA Championship-winning team in 2014, faces an uncertain reception when he lines up for the Toronto Raptors at the AT&T Center for the marquee matchup.