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Toronto Raptors

The most anticipated games in Toronto Raptors history

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Demar Derozan, Kawhi Leonard [NBA Getty Images]

On February 22nd, DeMar DeRozan made his highly anticipated return to Toronto in his first game since being traded for Kawhi Leonard over the offseason.

A game-winning steal and dunk by Leonard spoiled DeRozan's return as the Raptors beat the Spurs 120-117.

The anticipation for this game had us thinking, what are some of the other most anticipated games in Raptors history?

The first game in franchise history

Toronto Raptors 95, New Jersey Nets 79

Date: November 3, 1995

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Raptors: Alvin Robertson - 30 points, seven rebounds, five steals, four assists

Nets: Armen Gilliam - 13 points, 16 rebounds, two assists, two blocks

The inaugural game of the Raptors' franchise was November 3, 1995. They hosted the Nets in front of 33,306 people at the Sky Dome and picked up a win behind a huge 30-point night from Alvin Robertson. Robertson recorded the first points in Raptors' franchise history when he knocked down a 3-pointer to give Toronto a 3-0 lead to start the game.

Beating the 72-win Bulls

Toronto Raptors 109, Chicago Bulls 108

Date: March 24, 1996

Raptors: Damon Stoudemire - 30 points, 11 assists, four rebounds

Bulls: Michael Jordan - 36 points, nine rebounds, two assists, two blocks

The Bulls went into the Sky Dome with the best record in the NBA at 60-7 while the Raptors were 18-49, one of worst records in the league. Needless to say, this was the biggest win of the season for Toronto.

Damon Stoudemire, who went on to win Rookie of the Year in the inaugural season, had a massive 30-point, 11 assists double-double to knock off the best team in the league. It was one of the Bulls' 10 losses that season, which held as the best record of any team in NBA history until the Golden State Warriors went 73-9 in 2015-16. Tracy Murray and Oliver Miller also both recorded double-doubles for the Raptors, making them one of the nine teams to beat the NBA Champions of that season.

The first playoff game

New York Knicks 92, Toronto Raptors 88

Date: April 23, 2000

Raptors: Tracy McGrady - 25 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, two steals

Knicks: Allen Houston - 21 points, four rebounds, four steals

It took the Raptors five seasons to make their first playoff appearance, though it was short lived. Their first playoff game came on April 23, 2000 in a loss at Madison Square Garden to the Knicks. Allen Houston and Latrell Sprewell scored 21 points apiece to outperform Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady. Patrick Ewing and Larry Johnson added 15 points each, proving the Knicks were too deep for the young Raptors squad.

New York went on to sweep the Raptors in their first ever playoff series, 3-0.

Game 7 vs. Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia 76ers 88, Toronto Raptors 87

Date: May 20, 2001

Raptors: Antonio Davis - 23 points, nine rebounds, two assists, two blocks

76ers: Allen Iverson - 21 points, 16 assists, four rebounds, two steals

After getting their revenge on the New York Knicks to win the first playoff series in franchise history, the Raptors took the 76ers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2001.

Game 7 was a battle for the ages in one of the tighest playoff games in Raptors' history but the ideal end result fell just short. Dell Curry knocked down a clutch 3-pointer for the Raptors to make it a one point game with under a minute to go and Toronto got the stop they needed (twice) on the next possession to set up a chance for a game-winning shot. Vince Carter missed a tough look at the buzzer that hit the back rim and the 76ers advanced.

Allen Iverson dished a career-high 16 assists, receiving help from Aaron McKie (22 points) and Dikembe Mutombo (10p, 17r) to secure the win.

First Eastern Conference Finals game

Cleveland Cavaliers 115, Toronto Raptors 84

Date: May 17, 2016

Raptors: DeMar DeRozan - 18 points, five assists

Cavaliers: LeBron James - 24 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals

The Raptors had to grind to reach their first and only Eastern Conference Finals in franchise history. It took seven-game series against the Indiana Pacers in Round 1 and the Miami Heat in Round 2 to reach the Conference Finals, though this game didn't go exactly the way Raptors' fans would have liked.

The Cavaliers were in control the entire game, using a balanced scoring attack to take out Toronto. Kyrie Irving finished with a game-high 27 points to help out LeBron James' 24-point effort, while shutting down both DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. DeRozan's 18 points was a team-high while Lowry scored just eight points in the game.

The Raptors dropped the first two games on the road but evened the series at 2-2, winning both games at the Air Canada Centre. The Cavaliers used 20-point games from Kyrie, LeBron and Kevin Love to take Game 5 in Cleveland then 30-point games from Irving and James in Game 6 back in Toronto to close the series.

DeMar DeRozan's return to Toronto

Toronto Raptors 120, San Antonio Spurs 117

Date: February 22, 2019

Raptors: Kawhi Leonard - 25 points, six rebounds, two steals, two assists

Spurs: DeMar DeRozan - 23 points, eight assists, four rebounds, two steals

After spending his first nine seasons in Toronto, coming off of the best season in Raptors' franchise history, DeRozan was traded to San Antonio for Leonard.

Since the moment the trade happened, this was a game circled on everyone's calendar for the 2018-19 season.

DeRozan was greeted by a warm welcome during starters' introductions and received a standing ovation following his tribute video played in the first quarter.

He had a terrific game through 47 and a half minutes, scoring 23 points on an extremely efficient shooting night. But in the final 30 seconds of the game, he had the ball stolen by Kawhi at halfcourt leading to a go-ahead fast break dunk.

When he had a look for a potential game-winning shot he passed up the opportunity which led to a Davis Bertans missed shot, resulting in a spoiled return to Toronto.

Debuts for the highest-touted Raptors

Vince Carter

Toronto Raptors 103, Boston Celtics 92

Date: February 5, 1999

Carter's line: 16 points, three rebounds, two assists, two steals

The Raptors and Golden State Warriors swapped draft rights to college teammates Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter on draft night in 1998, altering the Raptors' franchise forever. Carter became the face of the franchise as one of the NBA's most entertaining players in league history. Donning nicknames like Vinsanity, Air Canada and Half Man-Half Amazing were as fitting as they come for a player like Carter, who is arguably the greatest dunker in NBA history.

His debut was highly anticipated and he played well in his first game in a Raptors uniform. Carter's 16 points came on an efficient 5-for-8 shooting night, recording 31 minutes as a starter in the Raptors' win in his NBA debut.

Chris Bosh

Toronto Raptors 90, New Jersey Nets 87

Date: October 29, 2003

Bosh's line: 11 points, four rebounds, two blocks

The Raptors selected Chris Bosh with the fourth pick of the loaded 2003 draft class in hopes to find a star forward to pair with Vince Carter. His debut wasn't as highly anticipated as Carter's, but all eyes were on Bosh as a future key of the franchise.

He scored 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting to go with four rebounds and two blocks. Bosh played 24 minutes off the bench, making a solid impact in the Raptors' win in his debut. Carter stole the show scoring a game-high 39 points, but it seemed evident that Bosh would pan out to be the player he became.

Andrea Bargnani

New Jersey Nets 102, Toronto Raptors 92

Date: November 1, 2006

Bargnani's line: two points, two rebounds, two blocks

The reason this game found it's way on this list is because Andrea Bargnani is the highest pick in Raptors franchise history. Toronto selected the 21-year old Italian International prospect with the first pick of the 2006 NBA Draft, passing on LaMarcus Aldridge.

Bargnani's debut was one to forget, scoring just two points to go with two rebounds in nine minutes off the bench. Former Raptor Vince Carter put on a clinic to school his old team, leaving Raptors' fans with more to desire from their first overall draft selection.

Bargnani played seven season in Toronto averaging 15.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game but never lived up to the hype of his No. 1 overall selection.

DeMar DeRozan

Toronto Raptors 101, Cleveland Cavaliers 91

Date: October 28, 2009

DeRozan's line: eight points, five rebounds

The Raptors selected DeMar DeRozan with the ninth pick of the 2009 NBA Draft in desperate need for a scoring wing. DeRozan started in his first career game with the Raptors, scoring eight points in 24 minutes of play. He only took six shots, converting three of them, making the most of his opportunities in his debut.

LeBron did his best to spoil DeRozan's first game, but 28 points from Bargnani and 21 points from Bosh pushed the Raptors past the Cavaliers on opening day. DeRozan would go on to play nine fantastic seasons in Toronto, becoming a fan-favorite throughout some of the most successful years in the franchise's history.

Fans, teammates, and DeRozan were not thrilled when the Raptors traded their franchise player away this Summer, though it seems both sides have moved on at this point.

Kawhi Leonard

Toronto Raptors 116, Cleveland Cavaliers 104

Date: October 17, 2018

Leonard's line: 24 points, 12 rebounds, two assists

Kawhi Leonard's debut was as highly anticipated as games come. As you'd expect with Leonard, there was not much communication between the time of the trade and opening night. He performed to the level he was expected notching a double-double in his first-career game with the Raptors, and it seems he's won over the love of Toronto's fans. Leonard has been playing at an MVP level this entire season and has the Raptors looking like a legitimate NBA Finals contender.

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