Nikola Jokic is a bad man, and one that did bad things to Toronto just 13 days ago. Jokic tormented the Raptors and dominated in every facet of the game, finishing with a triple-double of 23 points, 15 assists(!!!), and 11 rebounds. He needed just 13 shots to get there and was under complete control, even doing something stupid like this that didn’t count:
I mean…come on.
Denver didn’t run away with the game, as it was close throughout, but Toronto failed to get the stops needed down the stretch and lost 106-103 at Scotiabank Arena (still a stupid name). What most fans will remember from this game is how it ended though. Just prior to the above linked shot by Jokic the Raptors (Serge Ibaka to be specific) were called for a foul before the inbound. The score was tied at 103, meaning that the Nuggets got to shoot a free throw and retained possession of the ball with 5.6 seconds.
Before we get too conspiracy theory about the league having it in for Toronto, it was 100 percent the correct call. Ibaka fouled Jokic (grabbed the jersey) before the ball was in play and the refs saw it. But while it was correct, it is also seldom seen. That exact type of contact happens in almost every single end of game inbounds play and is regularly ignored. It was the correct call, but an awful way to lose.
While still a dangerous group, tonight’s Nuggets team will look a little different than the one that traveled to Toronto. Will Barton missed the last game, but joining him on the IR since have been both Paul Milsap and Gary Harris. Neither had a large impact on the last game, but both have the ability to get hot, and it’s always easier to defend a team that has fewer weapons at their disposal.
Despite injuries the Nuggets still remain at the top of the West (narrowly ahead of Golden State), and are 8-2 in their last 10. On the season they have the league’s 9th ranked offense (110.8 points per 100 possessions) and the 5th ranked defence (104.4 points per 100 possessions), making them one of three teams in the top 10 on both sides of the ball (Toronto and Milwaukee are the others).
Of particular concern to Toronto should be rebounding, where Denver currently leads the league with a rebounding percentage of 53.2 and an offensive rebounding rate of 32 percent. Denver grabbed 15 offensive rebounds when they last played the Raptors, scoring 23 second chance points. The Raptors will need to better control the glass if they hope to have a chance to avenge their loss.
For contrast, at the same time that Denver scored 23 second chance points, the Raptors successfully scored…2. A whole 2 points. The fact the final was as close as it was it actually kind of remarkable.
Denver is coming off a 109-98 victory over the OKC Thunder on Friday, where they were carried by Jokic (24 points, 15 rebounds, 9 assists), Jamal Murray (19 points, 9 rebounds, 1 assist), and Juan Hernangomez (16 points on 5-of-9 shooting).
The key to beating the Nuggets is secondary scoring. Jokic is going to get his, and so his Jamal Murray. While Toronto needs to try and limit the looks these two get, Denver has a variety of players who can take over games in small stretches. For example, Malik Beasley torched the Raptors for 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting in their last game, including a perfect 3-for-3 from long distance.
Beasley has done the following in his 5 games since playing Toronto: 8 points, 16 points, 19 points, 7 points, and 0 points. Denver just needs one player outside of Jokic and Murray to heat up and it changes the entire complexion of the game.
The Raptors meanwhile were without Kyle Lowry on Friday night against Portland and they truly missed him. Fred VanVleet got hot in the third quarter, but Lowry helps to set the tone on a team that lacked energy in that game. Hopefully Lowry’s thigh contusion is more preventative than a real issue, as Toronto will continue to be without Jonas Valanciunas (thumb surgery) and Pascal Siakam is also dealing with a sore back after a hard fall on Friday.
Coming into the season Denver was thought by many to be a fringe playoff team, with an elite offensive ceiling and a hope at an average defence. While they have not come out of nowhere, the level of success they have found early on (while dealing with injury) has at least been a mild surprise. Toronto will have their work cut out for them if they want to get back to winning after Friday’s set-back.