SAN ANTONIO - The Spurs’ suffocating defense, scoring runs and fans’ unrelenting contempt for the opposing team’s star player have often overwhelmed the opposition.
Kawhi Leonard has seen it many times in San Antonio, but the Toronto star never experienced it from the opposing bench until Thursday night. It was worse than he expected.
DeMar DeRozan 21 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists for first career triple-double and San Antonio welcomed back Leonard with thunderous jeers in the Spurs’ 125-107 victory over the Raptors.
“You’ve got to thrive in moments like that,” DeRozan said. “You’ve got to love to play in that type of atmosphere, whether it’s at home or on the road. It kind of fuels you, kind of gets you going. That’s what made it so fun.”
It wasn’t much fun for Leonard and the Raptors, who saw a three-game winning streak snapped in inglorious fashion.
Leonard scored 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting, but the anger the Spurs’ fans showered on him seemed to impact the MVP candidate. Leonard had to take a step back at the free-throw line and compose himself amid chants of “Traitor! Traitor!” and “Quitter! Quitter!” from the capacity crowd that adored him during his seven seasons in San Antonio.
The reception didn’t surprise Leonard.
“No,” Leonard said. “Media does a great mind to stir people’s minds and to influence them to think a certain way. So, I already knew how that was going to be the way the media was.”
Fans were angry that Leonard forced his way out of San Antonio this offseason in a trade that yielded DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl from Toronto for him and Danny Green.
Leonard was booed heavily from the moment he walked onto the court for the warmup. The boos continued during a pregame video tribute and player introductions, whenever he touched the ball and as he walked off the court following the lopsided loss.
“I felt badly about it,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Kawhi’s a high-character guy. We all make decisions in our lives about what we’re going to do with our futures and he has that same right as any of us. So, I felt badly, honestly.”
LaMarcus Aldridge scored 23 points for San Antonio, Bryn Forbes added 20, Derrick White 19 and Rudy Gay 13.
Rockets 135, Warriors 134 (OT)
In Oakland, James Harden hit a contested 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds left in overtime and finished with his second triple-double of the week and fifth straight 40-point game, rallying Houston past Golden State.
Harden had 44 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds for the Rockets in the win.
Stephen Curry put the Warriors ahead with 23.1 seconds remaining in OT on the way to 35 points, but Kevin Durant’s long 3-pointer missed as the buzzer sounded.