It's finally out of the way.
In one of the more highly-anticipated games of the 2018-19 season, the San Antonio Spurs used a dominant first-quarter and a career performance from DeMar DeRozan to earn a dominant 125-107 win over Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors.
Here are four takeaways from the game…
More than just another game
Despite being traded for one another in the 2018 offseason, both DeMar DeRozan and Kawhi Leonard tried to focus on the task at hand for their respective teams, but neither could truly deny the fact that it was more than just another game.
From as early as pregame warmups, the AT&T Center crowd showered Leonard with boos while one-time Spur Danny Green was met with cheers. This reception spilled over into the announcement of starters and lasted throughout the game.
The atmosphere was that of a playoff game and the intensity matched.
On the first possession of the night, Leonard attacked the rim and could be seen (and heard) showing emotion. DeRozan was visibly amped to face his old team and his energy was infectious - San Antonio finished the night outscoring Toronto 27-17 in transition and often made the Raptors uncomfortable playing at a faster pace.
MORE: How is the DeRozan-Leonard trade working out for both teams?
Over the summer, DeRozan said that his first meeting with the Raptors would be a game he had circled on his calendar.
One day ahead of the meeting, he was unsure if the game would be emotional but Thursday night had all the components of an emotional game.
While the 10-year veteran didn't explode for a monster scoring night, he made it clear pretty early that he was on a mission. DeRozan got off to a fast start, scoring nine points to go along with eight rebounds and four assists in the first quarter. 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.
DeRozan wasn't finished, either.
The four-time All-Star recorded the first triple-double of his 10-year career against his former team as he finished the night with 21 points (on 7-for-15 shooting), 14 rebounds and 11 assists in 33 minutes of action.
Following the game, DeRozan told TNT's Kristen Ledlow that his approach to the game was to "go out there and have fun," crediting the 'great shooters' on his team for his career night. San Antonio finished the night assisting on 32 of its 47 made field goals and sank 13 of its 27 3-point attempts led by a career-high six treys from Bryn Forbes.
"Just go out there and have fun."- NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) January 4, 2019
DeMar DeRozan speaks with @KristenLedlow after notching his first career triple-double against his former team!#GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/pV2OB26j2W
All eyes were on Leonard from the moment he arrived at the AT&T Center.
Two nights removed from a career-high 45-point performance, a stat line of 21 points (on 8-for-13 shooting) and five assists may seem slightly underwhelming, but the Raptors star did work to assert himself throughout the night.
Through constant boos and jeers, the Raptors superstar remained stoic in his composure - a true testament to his focus and drive as a competitor. While it was not necessarily a signature performance from the 2014 Finals MVP, his effort was certainly not the reason the Raptors fell short Thursday night.
With the potential of Leonard's first back-to-back of the season coming this weekend, his return to San Antonio is a headline that is finally out of the way and can take a backseat to what lies ahead for the Raptors.
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Trending in opposite directions
With the win, the Spurs move to 11-3 since Dec. 6 while the Raptors are 7-7 in their last 14 games.
The records tell the most important part of the story - wins and losses - but don't give a full scope of the recent stretches from each team.
Toronto has faced tough competition all while dealing with various injuries to key players. In Thursday's loss to the Spurs, the Raptors were again without All-Star guard Kyle Lowry and reserve big man Jonas Valanciunas.
While other reserves have stepped up, the absence of the aforementioned two has impacted the team's ability to execute as well as its overall sharpness. In San Antonio, the team never recovered from a slow start as it trailed 38-19 after one period. Additionally, Toronto failed to get going from deep as it finished the night shooting just 6-for-30 (20 percent) from 3-point range.
Conversely, the Spurs were sharp throughout the night, shooting 47-for-85 (55.3 percent) from the field and 13-for-27 (48.1 percent) from deep. San Antonio is one of the league's best 3-point shooting teams but is very selective as the shooting comes at a low volume.
Defeating one of the league's best teams is huge for the Spurs, who look to remain in the West's competitive playoff picture. The Spurs have won three straight and host Memphis Saturday.
The Raptors face another road test when they travel to Milwaukee Saturday before returning to Toronto for a three-game homestand at Scotiabank Arena.
DeMar DeRozan will make his first return to Toronto on Feb. 22.