VANCOUVER – Any doubts that the Toronto Raptors are Kawhi Leonard’s team were quickly put to rest before the tip-off of their pre-season debut in Vancouver.
During pre-game player introductions, Leonard, who came to the Raptors in a high-profile off-season trade with San Antonio Spurs, was the last name to be called by the stadium announcer, a spot usually reserved for a team’s biggest star.
The crowd at Rogers Arena cheered wildly when Leonard was introduced, and every time he touched the ball during his debut with the Raptors, who defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 122-104 on Saturday.
The famously reserved Leonard didn’t seem to hear the cheers.
“I didn’t really notice it,” he said. “I was just locked into the game.”
Leonard finished the game with 12 points, three assists, a rebound and a steal after playing 19 minutes, all of them in the first half.
In the second quarter, Leonard brought the Raptors bench to its feet with a crossover dribble and basket that fooled Blazers forward Caleb Swanigan.
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said Leonard did well to shake off the cobwebs after missing the last several months due to injury.
“I think everybody saw Kawhi was shaking off some rust but you can obviously see the level that he has,” Nurse said.
“He can do everything.”
Leonard hadn’t played in months but showed little fear of going to the basket, going to the free-throw line 11 times.
“He was just playing off instincts a little bit and he saw some gaps and he took them and they came pretty hard… and he bounced right back up.”
Leonard, for one, said it felt good to be back on the court.
“It’s going to take time to find my rhythm, but I felt great…just having fun,” he said.