It's always going to be a special one when San Antonio Spurs star DeMar DeRozan suits up against the Toronto Raptors.
As one of the greatest players in Raptors' franchise history, DeRozan will always have ties to his former team. But with plenty of familiar faces still on Toronto's roster, he now has to face off against players he once mentored when he was in a Raptors uniform.
All love pic.twitter.com/7yQGXPMTa7- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 15, 2021
One of those players in particular is rising star forward OG Anunoby, who saw plenty of DeRozan in this one.
Anunoby was the key cog to Toronto's gameplan against the Spurs, not only stepping up offensively in the absence of three main scorers in Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr., but also taking on the assignment of defending his former veteran.
MORE: Anunoby shines as Raptors hold off DeRozan's Spurs
As we've seen so often from Anunoby before, he was willing to rise to the challenge and succeeded in a big way. The 23-year-old scored a team-high 22 points shooting an efficient 7-for-14 from the field and 4-for-7 from 3-point range. On defence, he gave DeRozan all he could handle, holding him under 20 points (although he did dish out 11 assists).
Anunoby came out of the gates hot by burying three 3s in the first quarter and also showcased some of his more polished new offensive weapons like attacking off the dribble or working out of the post. That type of improvement impressed DeRozan, who spoke highly of his former rookie after the game.
"He started out stiff as a cardboard box," DeRozan told the media, according to TSN's Josh Lewenberg. "Now to see how he handles the ball, how he drives the ball, his post game. I saw him a lot this summer, we worked out a lot, and to see his skill set grow from where I first saw it speaks volumes."
Anunoby is in the midst of the best offensive season of his young career, averaging personal-bests of 14.6 points and 2.0 assists while also knocking down 2.2 3s and attempting 2.3 free throws per game. There is still plenty of room for improvement there, as he is just scratching the surface of what he could be capable of offensively, but it's still promising progress.
"He's come a long way," DeRozan continued. "He deserves everything that comes his way. I hope he keeps growing. It's fun to see that, it's fun to compete against that, and I'm glad I was a part of his career early on."
DeRozan and Anunoby were teammates back during Anunoby's rookie season in 2017-18, where he was more of a defensive specialist with very raw offensive capablitites. DeRozan got to see his growth in real-time in this one, and he spoke as proudly as you would expect of a vet-to-rook connection.
MORE: DeRozan has thrived against his former team
But it was still a tough loss to swallow for DeRozan's Spurs, who fall to 26-27 on the season, only holding a slim two-game cushion on the Western Conference's final spot in the Play-In Tournament. That didn't stop him from giving a very DeRozan-esque quote about the situation, though.
When asked what he and his other veteran teammates do to recuperate during the short turnarounds of this condensed season, he told the media (according to TSN's Lewenberg), "Drink that same thing Michael Jordan drunk in Space Jam."
Never change, DeMar.
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