Concern: Defensive rebounding is another reason why the Raptors lost their fifth game of the season. Denver grabbed 15 offensive rebounds and held an absurd 23–2 advantage in second chance points. Part of the issue is that Ibaka (5 rebounds) just isn’t able to hold his position, but it’s also on the wings for failing to help out.
Accordingly, the way the Raptors lost was not a shocking development. Defensive rebounding always figured to be the biggest problem for this roster, particularly when Serge Ibaka was acting as the primary big man on the floor. (That the Raptors still have a higher defensive rebounding percentage with Ibaka on the floor compared to when Valanciunas is on the floor seems surprising, but Ibaka plays more often with Kawhi Leonard, who is having a career-best year on the glass.) The Raptors entered Monday’s play 26th in defensive rebounding; the Nuggets were first in offensive rebounding. It was the unstoppable object meeting the very, very resistible (which, somehow, is not a word) force.
“It’s been fairly obvious to everyone, including our players, that we’re playing really good defence. And if we want to be great defensively, that we need to rebound better,” Nurse said before the game. “We’ve just tried to show ’em and tell ’em, it’s like we’re working like crazy and then we’re sighing a breath of relief because the ball missed and then we’re having to work like crazy again. It doesn’t make much sense, really, to work that hard and then to give up another possession.”
“We didn’t do a good job of that,” Green added. “We did a better job in the second half, but we allowed a few too many which allowed them to get two or three looks at the basket which kinda kills our energy, kills our defence.”
That is the frustrating thing for the Raptors — they can rebound competently. Green had a monster rebound among the trees in the third quarter, while Ibaka boxed out a few bigger players in the fourth quarter. A few more of those, and they would not have been burned by the odd call. Alas.
Of course, the Nuggets are no slouches themselves. Denver holds first place in the West and headed into Monday with a Player of the Week of its own in veteran forward Paul Millsap, who averaged 21.5 points, 10 boards and three assists over the past week as Denver went 2-0, featuring a win against Portland and a 32-point blowout against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. (Remember when Millsap, annually linked to the Raptors in trade rumours, was considered the potential answer to unlocking the Raptors’ potential, the long-coveted “third star” to accompany Lowry and DeMar DeRozan? Toronto’s start to the season and this new-look nucleus sure makes that seem like an eternity ago.)
On a night where Canadian breakout guard Jamal Murray entered the building with the spotlight on him, the Nuggets’ biggest star was undoubtedly centre Nikola Jokic. The 23-year-old seven-footer’s unorthodox game and stellar playmaking out of the centre spot — he had 10 assists by halftime — was on full display. Jokic fuelled a Nuggets surge toward the end of the second quarter, his passing and quick-fire decision-making infectious as Denver zipped the ball around and caught the Raptors off-guard, taking a 12-point lead into halftime.
“I was kind of hoping we’d be able to disrupt [Jokic] with a little bit more pressure,” Nurse said after the game. “He just seemed to handle it. We worked hard on him, we tried to put him under some duress with the ball but it just didn’t faze him.”
Jokic’s poise down the stretch, coupled with his unreal skill-set left no questions as to why he’s so highly regarded. And it all starts with his ability to find teammates.
With Jokic on his way to his second triple-double of the year, the Nuggets were able to maintain a fairly big lead for most of the third quarter before a quick spurt from Toronto cut the lead to 75-70 with 4:20 remaining in the period. Denver would answer though immediately going on a surge of their own to give themselves an 86-78 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Denver wound up getting outscored 31-27 in the third, but still found a way to take pretty decent lead into the fourth. The only Raptors player Denver had a hard time guarding was Kawhi Leonard, who finished the night with a game-high 27 points. As long as the Nuggets could find a way to stop Leonard in the final quarter, they had a pretty good shot of walking out of Toronto with the win.
The Nuggets struggled to begin the fourth quarter though as they started just 1-of-9 shooting from the field and allowed Toronto to cut the deficit to 89-88 with 7:40 left in the game. It was not till Jokic came back into the game that the Nuggets finally started to settle things down as the Nuggets big man collected his 10th rebound with six minutes left in the game to record his second triple-double of the season.
Toronto still maintained the momentum though and tied the game at 94 with 4:40 remaining. A Hernangomez three gave Denver the lead once again, before a Danny Green bucket tied the game back up at 97. The turnovers really started to mount up for Denver as they had 20 for the game and was the biggest reason why the Raptors were able to stay in the game.
Even with all the turnover troubles, the Nuggets still held a 100-99 lead with 1:17 left in the game and an opportunity to pad their advantage. A Leonard jumper with 54 seconds remaining made the score 101-100 in favor of Toronto and gave the Raptors their first lead of the second half. Just like they had all night, the Nuggets answered with a Jokic floater to give them a 102-101 lead with 40 seconds left in the game.
Two-straight missed 3-pointers from Green and a big rebound by Hernangomez gave the Nuggets two-free throws as they maintained a 102-101 lead with 12 seconds remaining. Hernangomez would go one of two from the line as the game was now in the hands of the Nuggets defense. Just like he has all his career, Leonard came up big in the clutch drilling a big step-back jumper to tie the game at 103, but the Nuggets still had seven seconds and a chance to win the game.
Before the Nuggets could even inbound the ball, the Raptors fouled Jokic to give him one free throw and allowing Denver to maintain possession of the ball. Jokic would make his free throw and got fouled the next possession to give the Nuggets a chance to extend their lead to three points. Jokic would do just that and Kyle Lowry would miss a three at the buzzer to give the Nuggets a big 106-103 victory over Toronto.
“They have great depth, lot of similarities between our two teams,” Malone said. “They have a lot of young talent that they’ve drafted and developed internally like we’ve done with our players.”
Malone also attributed Millsap’s run of success to the headband he donned to cover up stitches he received in Minnesota. The Nuggets’ veteran power forward had back-to-back 20-10 games in consecutive wins over Los Angeles and Portland.
“The headband,” Malone joked. “The headband is taking on a life of its own. I might start coaching in one, see if it helps us out.”
Millsap struggled from the field, but his eight rebounds helped control the tempo.
The Nuggets played the majority of Monday’s game without Harris, who left the game in the first quarter with a hip injury and was later ruled out for the remainder of the contest. He appeared to suffer the injury on a layup attempt that he was fouled on and was soon subbed out. Defensive specialist Torrey Craig absorbed his minutes, but the Nuggets lost Harris’ 3-point shooting in the aggregate.
The loss didn’t hurt as much as expected in the first half as the Nuggets built a 59-47 lead. Jokic was his typical self, funneling and facilitating for the rest of his teammates. He finished with 14 points, 10 assists and five rebounds for a first-half double-double.
Murray, as he has been throughout the Nuggets’ winning streak, was the aggressor in front of dozens of familiar faces. He had 12 points on 10 shots, including two 3-pointers, to go along with five assists and four rebounds. The Nuggets have leaned on their defense throughout the first quarter of the season and entered Monday tied for the best 3-point defense in the NBA at 31.2 percent; the Raptors were just 3 for 22 from 3-point range over the first two quarters.
Jokic picked up his FOURTEENTH dime on the evening with a nice lob to Plumlee for a reverse dunk, kicking the lead back up to eight points. Both teams spent the middle of the quarter scrapping with each other, with Toronto upping their physicality on defense to try to knock Denver off track. Lyles continued to struggle, a real minus for the team tonight. The rest of the reserves played great, with tremendous effort on defense, and while they lost the quarter, they entered the fourth quarter with the lead.
Lyles knocked in his first basket in the beginning of the quarter, stroking a triple from the right wing, but it was answered by OG Anunoby on the other end. The Raptors cut the lead to one, but then a Valanciunas foul on a Morris triple with a Coach Nurse technical, and the Nuggets were able to push the lead back to four. Murray checked in the game, and settled the crowd down with a midrange jumper.
With the score tied at 94 with 4:30 to go, Juancho knocked in a huge 3-pointer, and Jokic grabbed the rebound on the other end. After Murray slipped on a drive, Green tied it up with a corner 3 that the Nuggets defense couldn’t rotate over to contain. Leonard forced a turnover against Jokic on the other end, but Jokic forced a turnover by Leonard. Both teams missed a few shots, but the Raptors took the lead with 55 seconds left after a basket by Kawhi.
Murray and Jokic were able to connect in the pick and roll, with the big guy dropping in a floater to put Denver up by one point with 40 seconds remaining. The Raptors had a few chances after the timeout, but the ball wound up in Juancho’s hands, and he knocked in one of two free throws to put Denver up by two points with 12 seconds remaining. Leonard got the ball after the timeout, driving into the paint past Millsap, and canned his jumper to tie the game at 103. Ibaka made a terrible decision, fouling before the inbounds, and then Leonard fouled Jokic, who made all three free throws to give Denver the lead. Lowry missed a triple, and the team with the best record in the Western Conference defeated the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Although the Nuggets went ice cold once the fourth came, knocking their 10 point lead to a tie most of the quarter, the Best In The West came out with the W tonight in Toronto against the Beasts of The East. (See how I rhymed that? Clever, I know.)
The Nuggets firepower was hot all game but it was their defensive their ultimately saved them tonight in Toronto. Last three minutes of tied play cemented the fact they are indeed focused on defense this year.
This will go down as the new best game of the year, replacing either the Golden State win or the Boston win.
The Nuggets were consistently abusing the Raptors unwillingness to go over screens, leaving guards wide open for long-distance shots — two from Malik Beasley and one from Jamal Murray — courtesy of Nikola Jokic’s crisp passing.
In addition to Jokic setting brick-wall screens for his shooters, he dished ten first half assists, and capitalized on two offensive rebounds for easy buckets, both times in a crowd of Raptors standing around watching the action.
At this point, the Nuggets were simply playing with more energy and, to put it bluntly, running the show. But again — there’s always a second half.
Could Toronto regain their composure after the break?
Their first order of business, down 59-47 at halftime, would be to shoot the ball better — they finished the first half shooting 14 percent from beyond the arc, 3-of-22. It’s not as if the guys were launching ill-advised, well-defended shots — most were open looks, they were just simply not going down.
You could say this was not Toronto’s night, that they should pack it up and dial it in, and all signs pointed toward that happening. That is, until the third quarter.
Remember that super-defense we saw against the Grizzlies last week? Well it came back with a vengeance. I dubbed it “superglue” defense, because guys were attached man-to-man like superglue. Feet were moving, guys were talking, switches left and right — it helped the Raptors get within five points by the middle of the third quarter and the Raptors were back in the ball game.
While they never got the run needed to take back the lead — because of some really annoying and unfortunate in-and-out shots — they looked like a different team than the first half — playing with energy and focus on both ends.
The start of the game hardly foreshadowed what was to come.
Denver assisted on its first six baskets but not to be outdone, Toronto assisted on its first eight, with Lowry supplying the helper on four of the baskets.
From there, things bogged down quite a bit, with neither side able to connect on its shots, despite consistently stellar setups.
The Raptors shot 3-for-22 from three in the first half and only got to the free throw line four times, got dominated on the boards (second chance points were 17-2 in favour of Denver at that point) and trailed 86-78 after three, setting up the thrilling, see-saw finish.
Toronto had roared back and threatened to pull ahead when the referees botched a foul call on Jonas Valanciunas, allowing Denver to shoot three free throws, plus another when an irate Nurse expressed his displeasure. To the credit of the Raptors, the team pushed back once more and nearly pulled it out, with Danny Green missing a pair of three-pointers at one crucial point late.
Jokic simply sees things that most others don’t, a major reason why Denver came in fourth in the league in both assists per game and the percentage of shots that are assisted on.
“I was kind of hoping we’d be able to disrupt him with a little bit more pressure, right? He just seemed to handle it,” Nurse said.
The Nuggets assisted on 32 of 40 baskets.
Toronto lost to Western Conference opponent for just the second time all year (New Orleans) and hosts Jimmy Butler and the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday.
Jamal Murray is a young man who’s not lacking for confidence and he’s not making any apologies for it either. The Canadian is one of the NBA’s rising stars, but he’s also becoming a must watch player as somebody who’s not afraid to stir the pot. Josh Lewenberg has more.
1. Toronto Raptors
Wednesday’s riveting overtime win over the Warriors headlined another undefeated week for Toronto, which owns the league’s longest winning streak at eight games. Kyle Lowry missed Saturday’s win at Cleveland with a back injury, with Fred VanVleet, his replacement in the starting lineup, and Delon Wright demonstrating the Raptors’ strong depth. The NBA’s second-best offense is an interesting amalgamation of tactics. The Raps are the league’s fourth-most isolation-heavy team (Leonard ranks sixth in isolations per 100 possessions), yet eighth in percentage of field goal attempts from behind the 3-point line. — Arnovitz
1. Toronto Raptors
A perfect week brought Toronto’s league-leading win streak to eight games, and its record to a league-best 20-4.
Toronto opened the week with an impressive road victory over Memphis, who led by as many as 17 points in the game. The team returned home to defeat the defending champion Warriors in overtime, overcoming a 51-point performance from Kevin Durant. The league’s hottest team wrapped the week with an 11-point victory in Cleveland while All-Star guard Kyle Lowry was sidelined with a back injury.
It gets no easier for the Raptors, who host the streaking Nuggets and Sixers to open the week. Toronto closes the week with a visit to Brooklyn before returning home to take on Milwaukee, who is responsible for one of the team’s four losses this season.
1. Toronto Raptors (Previously 1st), 20-4 (+8.2 net rating)
Second straight week the Toronto Raptors have earned the top spot. Second in net rating. Best record in the NBA. Remember the 59-win team that placed first in the East and second in net rating last season? This team is on pace to best that team’s record by nine wins this season. Their 20-4 start, fueled by a current eight-game win streak, has vaulted them far above everybody else in the win column so far this season. The Raptors have become the symbol of consistency in the NBA, which is kind of insane when you think about their reputation heading into this season. Great in the regular season, shrunken in the postseason.
With Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green in place of DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl, the Raptors have infused championship know-how into the team. Does that sound like a cliché? Of course, it does. But it doesn’t mean the cliché doesn’t hold some weight here. The Raptors have never really had a leader going into a playoff scenario. That’s not to knock DeRozan or even Kyle Lowry. Those guys just seem to struggle too much in the big playoff moments — unable to adjust their focus or games or random acts of failure. With Leonard leading the charge and Green calming both ends of the floor, Toronto feels a lot different than before.
You can even see it in how Lowry has adjusted his role this season. His 19.7 percent usage rate is his lowest since the 2010-11 season. He’s rocking a 40.0 percent assist rate for the first time in his career (previous high was 34.7 percent). His potential assists are up 2.7 per game, clocking in at 14.9. His 22.5 points created from assists are second in the NBA to Russell Westbrook (22.6). That’s way up from the 16.0 per game he created with assists last season. Lowry isn’t attacking nearly as much and it’s conserving his body. Long-term, this should pay off for keeping him fresh and healthy for the postseason. At that point, he’ll be complementing Kawhi, who has definitely been through it all before. This Raptors team continues to just feel different than what we know of them from the past.
1. Raptors | Record Last Week: 3-0 | Previous Ranking: 1
“Nick Nurse know what he doing,” was a text message I received from a friend as he watched a replay of Raptors vs. Heat at 3:45 a.m. last week. Three games later, and it should be clear to everyone that Nick Nurse has this team clicking in a way that could make this a championship or bust year.
Of course, it’s a bit easier to look like you know what you’re doing as a coach when you have Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry putting together amazing seasons. And when you have a guy like Danny Green to light it up from deep and provide serious help on the defensive end. There’s also Pascal Siakam putting together a campaign worthy of earning him the Most Improved Player award. Serge Ibaka is still holding things down in the paint as the rim protector and versatile center against small-ball lineups. Add in Jonas Valanciunas, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Delon Wright and C.J. Miles and it’s even more understandable why Nurse feels so good about his first 24 games on the job. Life couldn’t be much better for his club right now.
1 RaptorsIs 24-year-old Pascal Siakam an actual star in the making? Two and a half years ago he was picked 27th out of New Mexico State before spending a solid chunk of his rookie season in the developmental league. Now Siakam is starting for the NBA’s top team, averaging 14.8 points and 6.4 rebounds and ranking third in the NBA in true shooting percentage. He scored a career-high 26 points in the Raptors playoff-atmosphere win last week over the Warriors. Kyle Lowry is this team’s heart and soul, and Kawhi Leonard is this team’s best player, but Siakam is the guy whose future I’m most excited about.
“It was my path, that was my path to the NBA, that was the way I wanted to handle my business and I don’t regret one bit of it,” he said Monday before tipping off at Scotiabank Arena for just the third time in his career and playing a central role in the visitors’ 106-103 win, improving the Nuggets to 16-7 while halting the 20-5 Raptors’ winning streak at eight.
Regrets? He’s got few.
Depending on how you categorize it, Murray is the best Canadian-born basketball player in the world. Amidst a sea of role players, Murray is one of few Canadians with star qualities now that Andrew Wiggins seems to have lost interest in the job and before R.J. Barrett arrives as a rookie next season – although Los Angeles Clippers rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander looks like he’ll be filling out an application.
For now it’s Murray. He’s starting at point guard for the team that arrived in Toronto with the best record in the Western Conference and as the leading scorer and leading playmaker (17.1 points and 4.6 assists, respectively) among the 12 Canadians in the NBA to start the season. But perhaps most importantly, Murray is the one who is the most determined to be heard – by any means necessary.
Against the Raptors, Murray was smart and contained, delivering 21 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in a team-high 41 minutes, although his line was overshadowed by seven turnovers that indicate his game still has some growing to do. Teammate Nikola Jokic’s 23 points, 11 rebounds and 15 assists carried the play, prompting Murray’s keeper post-game quote about his gifted if soft-bellied teammate: “Nikola can do everything but jump.”
But Murray showed his poise with a gorgeous pick-and-roll feed to Jokic that gave Nuggets a lead with 45 seconds left as Denver was able to hang on down the stretch after controlling most of the game. As good a shooter as Murray is he’s been struggling from deep so far this season, connecting on just 31.2 per cent so far this year. He was 2-of-7 against Toronto, continuing a trend, but he was in a similar funk this time last year and shot 41.2 per cent from deep from Dec. 1 on.
“A jump shot is a jump shot, you know, I shouldn’t be making excuses for it or anything like that. I’m always going to get on myself,” he said. “One of my best qualities is being honest with myself about what I can do better. … Everyone knows I can shoot, I just have to find my rhythm.”
Nurse has been nothing short of excellent to start his tenure as Raptors coach. He’s done a great job blending the old regime’s free-moving offence (which he helped institute as an assistant over the last few seasons), and a more modern approach to lineup play. The move of Jonas Valanciunas to the bench and Serge Ibaka to the starting centre (on most nights) has been brilliant and long overdue. It’s helped Pascal Siakam blossom as a Most Improved Player candidate with the starting lineup, gives Ibaka the opportunity to play big without needing to be athletic, and balances the Raptors roster. Ibaka and Siakam are both averaging career-high numbers, with 16.8 points and 14.8 points averaged respectively.
Nurse is the fourth coach in franchise history to win coach of the month honours, joining Dwane Casey, Sam Mitchell and Lenny Wilkens. He’s also the first rookie head coach to win the award since Luke Walton did so in November 2015, while serving as interim coach for the Golden State Warriors as Steve Kerr dealt with a lingering back ailment.
The Eastern Conference honours Nick Nurse as the Coach of the Month in his first month as the head coach of the Toronto Raptors. He becomes the fourth head coach in Raptors’ history to receive this honour, joining Dwane Casey, Sam Mitchell and Lenny Wilkins.
He is also the first rookie head coach to earn Coach of the Month honours since Luke Walton did it in November of 2015, filling in for Steve Kerr as interim head coach of the Golden State Warriors.
This award is rightfully earned, as Nurse has the Raptors at an NBA-best 20-4 so far this season. He led them to a franchise-best 6-0 to start the year and currently has them ranked second in offensive rating (114.6) and top-10 in defensive rating (106.4).
His Raptors’ squad is riding an eight-game winning streak going into tonight’s matchup against the Denver Nuggets.
This is the first time Leonard has been named the East’s Player of the Week, and obviously the first time he’s won it as a member of the Raptors (so far). He had previously won it four times as a member of the Spurs.
The Nuggets are on five-game winning streak and 21-year old Jamal Murray is separating himself as a standout on the team. The Raptors are well aware of what the Canadian is capable of and know it’ll be a big test with Denver in town.
Nurse estimated the San Diego, California native might be about seven to 10 days away from returning to action. However, the Raptors coach did admit this was only a rough estimate.
The Raptors will continue to take a cautious approach with Powell. And in reality, there is no need for them to rush him back anyway, given the health of the team and how well they have been playing.
In fact, there are no guarantees the shooting guard/small forward will become a regular part of the rotation when he returns anyway. And this must make him very nervous.
Prior to the season, we asked if Powell was a genuine trade candidate for the Raptors? In truth, this remains a legitimate question.
The 2015 second round draft pick has talent, but if he’s not playing, moving him makes sense. His salary would also be appealing to other teams, especially with his four-year, $42 million contract only kicking in this season. (Although the final year is a player option.)
Of course, first things first, Powell needs to actually return to action. However, once he does, his narrative will be worth keeping an eye on in the lead up to the Feb. 8 trade deadline.
Did I miss something? Send me any Raptors-related article/video to [email protected]