Raptors 85, Nuggets 77 | Box Score
Things finally clicked for the Toronto Raptors.
After an 0-3 round robin run at Las Vegas Summer League where the flashes of progress they kept showing struggled to materialize in on-court success, a day off to practice and collect themselves proved valuable. So, too, did a fresh start environment, the 29th-place round robin finish firmly behind them as the elimination portion of Summer League got underway. They would draw the undefeated Denver Nuggets, a good test of both their resolve and the steps forward they’ve taken in a week’s time.
It took a little longer than maybe hoped, but the Raptors got there. When they did, they blew the doors off, going on a monster run across the third and fourth to upset the Nuggets 85-77 on Wednesday. It was, without question, the best the group has looked in Vegas, with a couple of notable individual performances from Giddy Potts and Chris Boucher and a tremendous defensive effort up and down the roster.
“I think you could see, even in the losses, the growth coming,” head coach Nick Nurse said. “We just had such a long way to go to start, but I thought you saw flashes in each game. Maybe it was only eight minutes the first night and 12 the second night and 18, but we were finally pushing, and when you’re trying to get to a full game, it takes a lot for a lot of young guys.”
The game started out just as ugly as all of Summer League has been for the Raptors so far. It’s probably a bad sign that seven minutes into the game, Shevon Thompson was the only Raptor on the scoreboard, having put in a pair of post hooks and a free throw while everyone else missed from all over the floor or, worse, turned the ball over. Denver is a dangerous team in transition, and Malik Beasley and Monte Morris were more than happy to take advantage. Even when the Raptors could get back to contest in transition, defensive rebounding became a problem, and the Nuggets had a number of put-backs after strong initial stands in the paint.
Things looked bleak with an early 11-4 hole that led to a Nurse timeout, and some rotation tweaks provided a spark. One of the hold-overs from the starting lineup, Malachi Richardson, started a run with a corner three, and Alfonzo McKinnie and Potts followed suit with respective threes. Meanwhile, Boucher provided some solid minutes outside of not knowing one inbound play, contesting a number of shots at the rim for three blocks in the quarter and finishing a dump-off inside. A Potts buzzer-beater drew the Raptors even at 19 to end the quarter, a dramatic turnaround from where it looked like things were headed.
That momentum was fleeting. Boucher air-balled a three to open the second, and Denver got out on a 6-0 run that required another quick timeout. Again, it seemed to help. OG Anunoby got on the board with a tough shot out of the timeout to shake off an 0-for-4 first, then drove left with a nifty move for another, and the defense ratcheted up to force a shot-clock violation and a couple of late-clock heaves. Anunoby then drew the Raptors even with an and-one in transition, only for Beasley to end the mini-run with a thunderous baseline dunk and then another off of a stolen swing pass.
Beasley then hit a long two on an inbound play after Thompson had blocked a three out of bounds, and Richardson cared not for such rudeness. That led to both players, uh, goofing around on an inbound and receiving an inexplicable double-technical as they both laughed. Kennedy Meeks then got a chance for revenge against his old squad, hitting a smooth baseline jumper (and looking in terrific shape, down around 260, he says). The second ended with both teams trading buckets, including an Anunoby corner three to give him 12 in the quarter. Never was it enough to give the Raptors their first lead since the game’s opening bucket, though, and only another Boucher block at the buzzer kept Toronto within six at the half.
“I thought OG really settled into the game,” Nurse said. “We’ve given him license to go and do some things. Go play off the dribble a lot more, never be afraid to take any shot on the 3-point line. And you saw us post him a little bit more. A little bit midway through the game I said let’s get back to moving it, take what comes instead of some of the isolation stuff and we’re fine with that, we’re trying to grow him.”
Jordan Loyd got the nod to start the third in place of Rawle Alkins, and the improved defense from late in the first half carried over despite Denver making some inefficient looks. The imprecision on offense remained the bigger problem, with another swing pass being picked off, Anunoby fumbling a tough pass on a cut, and the team being a little slow to get into their sets and losing precious clock. Another errant drive-and-kick, this time from Anunoby, got Beasley out in transition again, and the Nuggets were out to their biggest lead at 11. The team fought off frustration, and Anunoby exhausted, and kept plugging, very slowly chipping back with a steady run to the free-throw line late. It was enough to get the margin to a very manageable two points entering the fourth.
That same aggression charging to the paint continued to pay dividends, with McKinnie finally putting the Raptors ahead at the stripe. Denver would go more than three minutes without scoring to start the quarter – Boucher deserves a world of credit – and another Potts triple pushed the Raptors ahead by six and sent Denver scrambling to a timeout. It did little to slow the Raptors, as Alkins promptly through a transition lob to Boucher and the Nuggets bench responded by picking up a technical.
“I was just trying to do what I have to do,” Boucher said. “I’ve been a shot-blocker my whole life. I was just trying to focus on that. I felt like we needed energy, so as soon as I came off the bench, I knew I had to get a couple rebounds, and defensively, get blocks, just to get my energy going.”
The Raptors smelled blood and took off from there, with Boucher drilling a three, Codi Miller-McIntyre throwing a lob to Anunoby for a one-handed jam, and Potts hitting another three. Out of nowhere, the Raptors were up 17, and not even another Beasley dunk could derail their momentum. Denver got back within as close as 12, and Anunoby put any thought of a late comeback to rest with a great contest on a jumper, a one-handed flush at the other end, and a block along the baseline for good measure.
“Yeah, it’s coming back,” Anunoby said of his explosiveness. “I think I’m just gonna wake up one day and it’ll be 100. I think I’m 100 right now but I’m sure I can do more.”
Morris went off late and made the final score respectable, if unthreatening in the closing moments. Whatever happens from here, this is surely a nice affirmation after a tough week of work, rewarded with a day off in Las Vegas before practice resumes Friday and the tournament continues Saturday.
- Yes, we’re copping my Raptors 905/Team Canada recap format here with half-gamer, half-notes. I figure it lends itself better to games like these where people might not be as concerned about the game-flow as the actual player performances.
- As always, yes, all Summer League caveats apply. The context of the tournament needs to be recognized. That doesn’t mean information can’t be pulled from it – positive signs are allowed to breed optimism, and negatives can help inform the rest of a player’s offseason. Take it for what it is, and enjoy.
- RAPTORS NOTES: OG Anunoby shook off a cold start to finish with 22 points on 21 possessions…Giddy Potts was the offensive highlight, hitting four threes to put up 14 points in 22 minutes. He and Chris Boucher were tethered together, each posting +20 marks. Boucher was the defensive highlight, grabbing six rebounds with six blocks and two steals, and he added 12 points, including a pair of threes, for good measure…Alfonzo McKinnie had his best game of the tournament, too…Codi Miller-McIntyre had a team tournament-high 11 assists.
- Rawle Alkins had a rough one, finishing 1-of-9. He at least brought some strong energy at both ends.
- INJURIES: Fuquan Edwin missed a third consecutive game with a left knee injury…Malcolm Miller is done for Summer League with a dislocated shoulder.
- IN ATTENDANCE: The Raptors’ brass were in attendance outside of Masai Ujiri (who was obviously off trading for Kawhi Leonard, given DeMar DeRozan’s Instagram, right?), but Norman Powell is the only player from the parent club still left in Vegas…Jamal Murray was sitting at half court, bumping me to second most notable 519 product at Cox Pavilion. Nikola Jokic and Long-Time Future Raptor Kenneth Faried were there as well…Dwane Casey caught most of his old team’s game. I got the chance to catch up with Casey earlier in the week, which was nice.
- NUGGETS NOTES: Malik Beasley and Monte Morris combined for 40 points on 39 possessions, a nice volume on decent efficiency in a game where Denver only scored under a point per-possession.
- UP NEXT: The Raptors now take on Charlotte in the second round of the playoffs, which are single-elimination from here. That game will go down at 3 PT/6 ET on Saturday, with the Raptors continuing on if they win and heading home if they lose.