Did anyone want to win that game last night? For almost 50 minutes, it really didn’t seem like it. Last night’s contest was there for the taking at several instances for both the Nuggets and the Raptors – but between missed free throws, turnovers, and wide-open misses from beyond the arc, both teams seemed to cave when the golden opportunities presented themselves. And in the end, it was ugly, and it took overtime, but the Raptors were able to assert their winning touch in the closing moments, on a young Denver squad that’s still figuring out how to close out these kinds of games.
Quick start and cool down
The Raptors surged with a quick start to the first quarter, fueled by the usual opening quarter scoring spurt of DeMar DeRozan. As for Lowry, he was dishing out assists beautifully and hitting 3s, as the Raptors pushed ahead by as much as 12 on the Nuggets home floor. The Raptors also held the Nuggets to a game-low 19 points in the first quarter, as they closed out effectively on Denver shooters and won the rebounding game early. The Raptors finished the first quarter ahead 29-19, but their lead was erased quickly in the second quarter, as the Nuggets scored double the points in the second frame, exploding for 38. Wilson Chandler was shredding the Raptors’ defense, stroking jumpers from all over the floor. Lowry, DeRozan, Joseph, and even Norm Powell all looked exhausted, were caught flat-footed on rebounds, and were too slow to get back on defense to neutralize Denver transition buckets.
Second Half Struggles
Unfortunately for the Raptors, DeRozan and Lowry were the only 2 guys that could really get it going for any meaningful stretches. Aside from the encouraging scoring punch provided by Terrence Ross, the Raptors got almost nothing from their bench, and it showed as the first half closed and the third quarter began. Wilson Chandler caught fire for the Nuggets, Emmanuel Mudiay began heating up from mid-range, and Danilo Gallinari showed clear aggressiveness going to the line a game-high 13 times, going a perfect 13-13, for a total of 21 points. The Raptors fought hard and kept the Nuggets within striking distance, but ended the third quarter the same way they started it – down by 5 points.
The fourth quarter was much slower by pace, with more fouls and missed shots on both sides. But things tightened up with just over a minute to go, with the Raptors, up by 1, holding possession of the ball. After a huge offensive rebound by JV to keep a Raptors possession alive, Valanciunas was fouled, but missed a free throw, opening the door once again for the Nuggets. Denver then promptly drilled a three-pointer to reclaim the lead courtesy of Jameer Nelson.
With the score now at 101-100, the Raptors responded with a crisp DeRozan jumper, before fouling Wilson Chandler on the other end, who also missed 1 of his 2 free throws. The game, now tied at 102 with just over 7 seconds to go, came down to a scrambling last shot for DeMar DeRozan – a 15-foot fade-away that just spilled around the rim and out. I definitely agreed with Coach Casey’s decision not to call a timeout in a situation like this, to avoid letting the defense get set (especially since the play would be a DeMar isolation anyway). But the DeRozan jumper, while clearly a make-able shot by his standards, just didn’t seem like the best shot he could’ve gotten. And that’s especially considering he had the smaller Mudiay on him, whom he probably could’ve attacked. But nonetheless, overtime ensued.
Overtime: sealing the deal
The Raptors looked tired once again in the overtime, but luckily for Toronto, Denver looked the same. The game came down to the 2 minute mark, with Denver holding possession of the ball, up 2. Off of an offensive possession, Gallinari missed a wide open 3, which allowed the Raptors to come back and take control of the game coming down the stretch. The Nuggets were held to just 4 points in the final 2 minutes, while the Raptors countered with late buckets from DeRozan, and a gigantic three-pointer by Terrence Ross to put the Raptors up by 2 with 37 seconds to go in the extra session. And that, as they say, was that.
By the second quarter, this was a game most of us thought would have to be an ugly win. And yet, it ended up being not-so-ugly after all. And while we all knew a road game in Denver is never easy, this one still felt just a tad tougher than it needed to be. But for the Raptors, after back-to-back losses against the last 2 NBA Champs, they’ll take a win any way they can get it.
Notables of the Night
- Patterson continues to struggle: One of the few weak spots for the Raptors was the play of Patrick Patterson. Patterson is continuing to struggle with his shooting, as he was held to just 1 point, and 0/4 from beyond the arc. While Patterson’s versatile defense and ability to defend multiple positions makes him invaluable for Dwane Casey’s defensive schemes, his lack of confidence is leading to sputtering play, evidenced tonight by a late hesitation on a 3, and offensive foul on a drive. If Patterson doesn’t stretch the floor and take advantage of open shots created by Lowry and DeRozan, it will limit how potent this offense can really be.
- Another 100+ game for opponent: For most of the game, the Raptors’ defense continued to struggle (the Nuggets shot a combined 47% for the game), allowing 100+ points for the 6th straight game. Granted this one went to overtime, but the Nuggets had already scored 102 points in regulation. There are times this team shows signs of that 2014/2015 Raptors squad, which is a bit scary. Down the stretch of that regular season, the Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan show prevailed on most regular season nights, but hidden in between all of that, was some truly terrible team defense. And that was simply bad news for the post season.
- Terrence Ross: On the bright side, the Raptors got a HUGE performance from Terrence Ross, who along with JV, provided the only real spark for the Raptors besides DeMar and Kyle. Ross went 6/11 from the field, and hit 4 massive three pointers which were hit at crucial times and were momentum-swinging in nature. While Lowry and DeRozan’s play will be there on most nights, the Raptors need significant offensive contributions from guys like Ross, Patterson and JV if they want to win against anybody.
- DeMichael DeJordan: While it was through slightly less efficient means, DeRozan still managed to eclipse the 30 point mark once again, for the 10th time in the Raptors first 12 games. Yes, MJ still did that back in 86/87. This is actually happening.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Raptors, as they continue their 5-game road trip with a trip to Northern California to play the Sacramento Kings. The last time the Raps played the Kings, they got destroyed at the ACC by DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay. The duo combined for 45 points, with Rudy Gay flashing his occasional flurry of brilliance with clutch baskets, while Cousins simply abused JV and Jakob Poeltl in the post with 22 points and 14 rebounds. Not to mention Sacramento has always proved to be a tough place for the Raptors to play. Another tough western conference road game? Bring it on.
Tip time is 9:00 pm EST.