For the first time in nine years, the Toronto Raptors opened up their season without DeMar DeRozan in the building.
As you may have heard, however, there’s a new star in town. And former Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard made his Raptors regular season debut Wednesday when Toronto opened its campaign against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
And, after a spring and summer of highlighted by disappointment, then change, then anticipation and optimism for Raps fans, the masses showered their new star with a thunderous ovation when Kawhi was announced last during the team’s pregame intros.
He missed his first three shots of the game, but followed that up with a 3-for-4 run to round out the opening Q. Leonard’s first half of basketball as a Raptor shaped up like this: 18 minutes, 12 points (which lead all first-half scorers) on 5-of-11 shooting, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers, 0 smiles, and a plus-10.
His first regular-season bucket in Toronto was unspectacular but got the job done — a lot like the man himself.
Kawhi Leonard first basket scored as a Toronto Raptor! pic.twitter.com/RNmu415ebB
— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) October 17, 2018
In the second half, we got our first glimpse of high-flying Kawhi, when he delivered his first monster cram of the campaign off a sloppy Cavaliers turnover.
Note the ferocity in which Tristan Thompson pulls the chute on his defensive effort after realizing The Claw was about to to shove one down his throat.
Leonard was strong in the paint all night long — on both ends of the floor — too.
1 v 2?
Light work for Kawhi pic.twitter.com/D7PDiQvqhi
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) October 18, 2018
In true Canadian fashion, Kawhi finished his debut with a double double, posting 24 points and 13 rebounds. Scotiabank Arena in Toronto was rocking all night long and took it up a few decibels every time Leonard touched the ball, even making it rain with few MVP chants throughout the contest.
Leonard spoke on the reaction from the Raptors faithful with TSN’s Kate Beirness after the game:
“I thought [the response] was great. They had great energy tonight, they made a good push for us in that fourth quarter when we didn’t have no energy. I loved it tonight just coming out here and playing and seeing all the love and support.”
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