It isn’t a good sign when the return of an ex-player is the story of a game played in April.
Yes, the first time a fan favourite makes their return to the arena where they spent the first seven years of their career, it is an event. It is when this event becomes the storyline that it is a problem because it means that both teams are no longer playing for this current NBA season.
While the Toronto Raptors and Detroit Pistons kept things interesting in the final few minutes of Detroit’s 108-98 victory on Monday night, in many ways the game itself felt like an afterthought.
Monday night was all about Calderon’s homecoming.
“It was emotional,” Calderon said of his return to the Air Canada C entre. “I don’t know. I think no tear was out, but close. It was close.”
From the standing ovation when his name was announced during starting lineups to the crowd that waited around until after he finished his post-game interview, this was Calderon’s night.
This isn’t even counting the pre-game hugs for everyone, an emotional video montage shown during a timeout — coupled with, yes, another standing ovation — and the halftime snafu when Calderon initially started walking toward the wrong locker room, before stopping, turning and smiling as he made his way to the visitors side of the tunnel.
“I went to the wrong tunnel, yes,” Calderon said with a smile. “They called me out really quick, so it was just like three, four steps, that’s all.”
Even after delivering a loss to his former team, assisting on buckets late and finishing with 19 points and nine assists, Calderon was still at a loss when trying to explain what the day and the reception from the crowd meant to him.
“It’s hard to explain but it felt great,” he said. “I think it’s going to be one of the better moments in my career for sure. Just not the beginning, when they showed the video with the different times as a Raptor, with longer hair and shorter hair, less hair and more hair, it was a lot of great moments there that came to my mind.
THANK YOU TORONTO! I never gonna forget this day! #nowords . Can’t explain how I felt during that video!!!Thanks
“I was thinking about it. It was a tough one. It was during a timeout so I didn’t know to check the board, the coach was talking, or just saying thank you. It was great, yes. Thank you. Thanks very much.”
Calderon acknowledged that it was much different returning to Toronto for the first time since the trade took place.
“I played against [the Raptors], two days ago, nothing similar,” he said. “It was just a game. It was fun because it was my [former] teammates on the other side, but tonight I had that weird feeling from (the) morning and coming to this place, it was better than expected… It was amazing.”
For the Raptors, it was more agony than amazing.
After holding a four-point lead through three quarters, the team fell apart, once again, in the fourth quarter. Getting outscored 33-19 in the fourth, Toronto allowed the Pistons to shoot a blistering 59 percent from the floor. In comparison, they connected on 32 percent of their attempts.
While Calderon was solid in his return, reserve Jonas Jerebko came off the bench to score 15 points, 10 coming in the decisive fourth quarter.
“I was playing as hard as I could,” Jerebko said. “I wanted to get that win for Jose. He’s been here for eight years…The fans here love him and he just wanted to come out and get win and I’m glad we could help him do that.”
It was a special night for Calderon and another night of the same old story for the Raptors.
“You can’t underestimate nobody in this league,” DeMar Derozan said. “Anybody can come out and play hard. They played a tough game last night in Chicago, played them until the last minute. We knew they were going to come out hard and they did.”
Despite the loss, DeRozan was pleased with the reaction his former teammate received in his return.
“I wish all the best for Jose with the rest of his career,” DeRozan said. “I was glad the crowd gave him a standing ovation. That was big. I was happy for that.”
Pistons head coach Lawrence Frank was as well pleased with reception his point guard received
After playing 43 minutes, Calderon walked off the Air Canada Centre court with a smile on his face
In the locker room, Frank was smiling too.
“The Toronto fans are very classy. It is good to show the appreciation because Jose is a first class guy. I was happy for him because I know how much he loved it here. This is not a guy who has anything negative to say about Toronto. He always embraced it and speaks very positively about it. There is no bitterness. I thought the fans were first class.”
With the loss, the Raptors were officially eliminated from post-season contention.
Fields gets follow-up testing on right elbow
The team announced prior to Monday’s game that Landry Fields would miss the contest because of follow-up testing on his right elbow. It is the elbow that underwent ulnar nerve transposition surgery in November.
Fields was visiting with doctors in Los Angeles to check out the elbow.