Road-weary Nuggets nearly upset lackadaisical Raptors.
Against a team with 10 players, playing the second game of a road back-to-back, the Toronto Raptors had an opportunity to inspire some confidence in the post-DeRozan portion of the 2014-15 season. The Raptors did not do any such thing, using overtime to beat the Denver Nuggets 112-107.
Toronto looked like they were going to be rolling Bruno & Bebe out for some serious burn tonight after a dominating stretch in the second quarter. The first quarter was a shootout; Denver shot 4-6 from deep, Ty Lawson picked apart the defence for seven assists and Toronto didn’t even turn the ball over
But the wheels came off towards the end of the first half and the Raptors held a negligible 62-52 lead. When able to contain penetration, Toronto’s defence was sound. The Nuggets are not going to beat you with passing; it is all Lawson’s work off the bounce. If he hits the paint, he’s smart with the ball and the Raptors learned by conceding open looks to Arron Afflalo and Wilson Chandler.
Out of the break, Denver saw some threads they could pull at in the Raptors defence. There was no obvious answer for pick and roll coverage and Toronto could be exposed on the defensive glass. Amir Johnson was getting his ankle retaped, shoving Patrick Patterson into the line-up out of the break. 2Pat is a welcome sight against the short-bench Nuggets, who employ J.J. Hickson and his fleeting interest in defence. But Jonas Valanciunas can only do so much, and Patterson’s lack of boxing out allowed Timofey Mozgov and Darrell Arthur to crash the boards hard. Mozgov scored 12 points and grabbed four offensive boards, while Arthur grabbed two o-rebs himself.
Toronto would continue to frustrate in the fourth quarter. Rebounding continued to plague them, but the offence turned wayward. Lou Williams looked to push the tempo and beat his man nearly every time. Williams is good enough to do that against anyone in the Denver guard rotation, but step-back shots are not what the team needs in a half where offence was lacking. In a game against a tired, injured team that you are clearly better than, you just need to execute. Denver’s pick and roll defence is just not there (this has something to do with Arthur and Hickson, but Lawson deserves blame too) but the Raptors insisted on doing otherwise until the final stretch.
The closeouts through the fourth quarter were bad, though. Once Lawson got past his defender, the Nuggets swing the ball around and the Raptors would closeout so hard on shot fakes, the ball handler could take a dribble and force more rotations as their defender flew by. Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson, James Johnson – all of them were guilty of this. It is a simple fix and something I imagine the Raptors will address ahead of tomorrow’s game.
Lowry, again, rescued Toronto. Key free throws inside the final two minutes, as well as a good pass on the pick-and-pop for a Patterson three put Toronto through to overtime. Lowry stunted well to force a travel on Arthur and a shot clock violation after doubling Chandler. Toronto got to OT in spite of shooting 2-12 from three in the fourth (and 4-20 in the second half.) The extra frame seemed routine for Raptors though; simple pick and roll destruction and taking advantage of a tired and depleted Nuggets team.
Really, you would hope to see more in this scenario. There are a couple platitudes you see up-and-coming teams when they are in this situation. 1) “Good teams blow out weak opponents.” 2) “Good teams find a way to win when things aren’t going their way/when they don’t play well.”
There’s some merit to either point, but let’s look at No. 2. I find it hard to say “it’s just one of those games” when you’re playing a team that is down to 10 players on the second game of a back-to-back, and three of those 10 combine for ~14 minutes of court time. This is a game where things are going Toronto’s way, from the very tip, yet they do not blow out the team. They showed signs of being capable, but allowed Denver to win the second half because of poor rebounding and a lack of execution.
Now, this was a trap game too. Any time you put as many qualifiers on a game as I have, you’re in murky territory. But Toronto has Cleveland the following night and there’s the possibility of looking ahead too.
I’m not trying to say that this game is a reason for serious concern or merits any kind of thinkpiece. We’ll know in a couple weeks whether this team has some defensive issues and just how integral DeRozan was to the flow of the offence. For now, everything is just worth noting and the game-to-game happenings should be taken with a grain of salt.