Raptors’ comeback attempt kiboshed by self-destruction vs. Nuggets

8 mins read
Kyle Lowry

Considering the surrounding schedule, I can’t fault the casual fan if a Nuggets-Raptors matchup didn’t exactly inspire enthusiasm. With a road game the night before vs. a member of the East’s elite, the upcoming must-see event against Golden State, and the latest stop on Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour, it never stood a chance.

So if you held true to your hardcore roots and stayed to the end, your devotion deserves a salute. And while I don’t condone the ones deciding to open up Netflix or flip between TNT and Thursday Night Football, I can understand the switch. No hard feelings.

I imagine the tipping point for some was the moment with just over 5 minutes left in the second quarter, when Denver drained their 6th three-pointer in 12 tries to take an 18-point lead (Nuggets hit 12 overall at a 44% clip). If that wasn’t enough frustration to do the trick, T.O.’s goose-egg in second-chance points surely put some over the edge.

Which only adds to this game’s troubling direction. A disappointing start highlighted by ball movement, or lack thereof. First-half assists: Raps 7, Denver 18 (Overall: a 30 – 21 margin).

As disturbing as it sounds, those 21 helpers were actually an improvement upon the Raps’ status quo. Toronto’s assists per game average (17.8) ranks dead last. Which in turn, lends itself to another bottom of the barrel classification when it comes to first quarter points (22.0).

Though to think a letdown on a second night of a back-to-back wasn’t a possibility would have been foolishly optimistic. Even when facing off against a team in the midst of an 8-game losing streak. And the same goes for the look-ahead angle. Even the most disciplined of teams can take an inferior opponent for granted. But on the flip side, the Raps have a history of lowering their standards instead of imposing their will. A thought that’s exemplified when you realize the Nuggets never trailed once the entire game.

With Phoenix the most recent example of how tired road legs coming home can buckle on the second night, cutting this performance some slack is justified. Especially when the flu-like-symptoms comeback in Atlanta took so much effort to accomplish.

However, that doesn’t mean I can just look the other way. I saw the Nuggets as one of the season’s first major checkpoints. A psychological tryout, if you will.

I hinted at the fact that this loss is somewhat excusable, but I can’t fully commit because that notion loses plenty of weight considering Denver was undermanned from the jump. Specifically speaking of the injuries to Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler, two primary factors in the Nuggets’ grand scheme.

Speaking of the big picture, I’d feel the same even if it was the third game in four nights. Either way it ultimately provides postseason training. The fact that the Raps have now failed twice in their last four to follow up a victory when facing lesser competition is a concerning trend. Particularly when the Nuggets were dealing with the same back-to-back situation. The season is still ripe with opportunities, but the more a direction shifts for the worse, the harder it becomes to kick bad habits.

With Denver thin up front, the Raps’ 52-32 edge in the paint was to be expected. But when you then proceed to lose the board battle (42-39), the perceived advantage becomes neutralized as the game progresses. Chasing Darrell Arthur inside and out didn’t help matters, either. It also suggests the absence of Valanciunas finally came to the forefront. His inefficiencies on defence would have played the background, only to potentially see him thrive the other way. It’s not like perimeter defense was a main priority anyway.

To be fair, Carroll was all over Gallinari on more than a few attempts. But Danilo’s daggers were simply not rotated on enough overall. Not to mention the space given to Mudiay, Barton and Foye to penetrate the lane.

Valanciunas isn’t coming back anytime soon, so the interim may call for experimenting with the lineup. A suggestion brought up by Casey in his post-game presser.

DeMar DeRozan

With all that said, the comeback kids almost struck again.

Despite the uninspiring effort, there is something to be said for almost stealing a win. Again.

Coming out in the second half with a more assertive approach was a welcome sight. Aggressive defense led to pushing the fast break and eventually cutting the lead to two points. Which led to yet another debatable decision by the Refs. If Lowry gets the call (down by 3 with 11 seconds left), the entire landscape changes, and for the moment, all the negatives would have been pushed to the side.

I don’t think a whistle was the obvious choice. Lowry is arguably throwing himself into Foye, and then into Arthur. Though Foye (his Villanova teammate) was creating contact over the top as well. Either way, that “non-call” can’t be considered this game’s headliner. It shouldn’t overshadow how poorly things went early on.

But with this being the positive section, there’s more to discuss.

DeRozan, as he has many times, put this team on his back for extended stretches. Usually, dominating possessions (26 shots total, 10 more than the next highest), isn’t what we’re looking for. But he did show why he still owns untapped potential. His decision to start driving instead of settling for his mid-range jumpers did come a little too late, though.

Lowry’s shooting tailed off, but just think of how much more this game would have gotten out of hand if his peripheral stats didn’t amount to 8 dimes, 6 boards, 4 steals, and 2 blocks.

Joseph and Bebe. One is a future already a mainstay, the other is starting his climb. With Carroll currently in somewhat of a funk (finishing near the rim being at the top of his list), Joseph has now taken the lead role as far as impact from an offseason acquisition goes. His two weaknesses of long-range shooting and one-on-one drives have shown significant improvement. The latter was present last night.

Anyone think Bebe is going back to the 905 area code once this team is fully healthy? I tend to think not. He’s fundamentally sound with an awkward smoothness, and he’s showing it off by knowing where to be and when. In a game that held so many flaws, Nogueira’s subtleties stood out.

Now, it depends on which squad shows up, but just in case, get your Saturday PVR’s ready. #TheCityvsThe6ix

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