Raptors sweep challenging back to back in the most unexpected way

7 mins read
courtesy: NBA.com

It’s been hard to make sense of the post all-star break Raptors but how fun was this back to back?

Maybe the best description available is simply playing up and down to their competition on an extreme level. So of course that would lead to taking down league leading Phoenix and dealing with the altitude in Denver without Fred VanVleet; the most impressive set of wins all year.

Make it seven times this season that Toronto has won both games of a back to back. The Raptors also snapped a four game losing streak to the Nuggets, thanks to a fourth quarter run by a funky lineup.

Dalano. Scottie. Thaddeus. Chris. Khem.

Those were the five guys to begin the fourth with Toronto down six, appearing to be running on fumes. Pascal Siakam had already eclipsed the 30 point mark but needed a break. Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic was also off the floor. Logically one would think Pascal gets maybe a three minute rest before making a final push?

Wrong.

Nick Nurse said after the game he had thoughts of scrapping this lineup as Denver’s lead grew to eight and maybe should have been 10. However this miss by DeMarcus Cousins sparked something special.

Khem Birch has been struggling with knee issues all season so to see him make that lob by Thaddeus Young look pretty was a very encouraging sign. A minute later, Dalano Banton found Birch curling into the paint after penetrating to bring the Raptors within two.

The Raptors length suffocated the Nuggets into poor decisions, resulting in 19 turnovers resulting in 31 points for Toronto. Denver was also its own worst enemy without Jokic. Bryn Forbes threw up a wild three. DeMarcus Cousins laboured down court after misses, looking for calls. Ironically Young drew a foul on Boogie with a floater that tied the game at 104. Those two interacted again a bit later, resulting in the Raptors taking the lead for good.

That’s called taking someone’s cookies.

Both Thad and Khem had their best stretches of the season in the fourth. Chris Boucher was also massive with nine offensive rebounds. Birch added six and the Raptors collected 23 as a team, leading to 30 second chance points and 24 more shot attempts! That was crucial because the Nuggets shot 55 percent from the field. Toronto outrebounded Denver 50-39, nearly a complete reversal of the first game this season where the Raptors were outrebounded 50-35.

Dalano’s lone basket of the game extended the Raptors lead even further. His floor time has been up and down as one would expect from a second round rookie, but this is the third straight game he’s played double figure minutes.

Boucher praised Banton after the game.

“It’s hard to not know when your minutes are coming. I’ve been there before. But one thing that I know is when your time comes you have to be ready and I think he’s doing a really good job with that…. it would have been easy for him to get down on himself in a lot of situations but he kept his head up and was big for us (today). He did a lot of really great things.” said Boucher.

I saved Scottie’s contributions to this lineup for last. Barnes took over creating whatever was necessary to score, putting the game out of reach. #4 had 25 points, eight rebounds and a career-high 10 assists.

Siakam was back on the floor for Banton before Boucher’s “no don’t shoot that so early…great shot!” three to put the Raptors up 10. In the 8:19 that Pascal sat, Toronto outscored Denver 24-10.

Meanwhile Jokic checked back in around the six minute mark of the fourth, but somehow didn’t attempt a shot the entire quarter. The dagger summed up the entire fourth – lots of chaos created on defence by the Raptors, with the Nuggets looking like they were the ones affected by the altitude despite having a day off.

A Precious Touch

Nurse started Precious Achiuwa over Birch in this game for perimeter defence and….floor spacing? What a wild reason that would have been even two months ago. Over his first 38 games this season, Precious made 0.3 threes a game on 23.9 percent. Usually his makes came from the corner. That data was accurate as recent as January 29th!

That’s old news now, because Precious is shooting them from everywhere.

Achiuwa caught Jokic retreating to the paint twice early in a Raptors possession, only to surprise him with a corner three. Both looks came in the first seven seconds of the shot clock.

Achiuwa finished with 15 points and a new career-high four threes. Over his last 20 games, Precious is now up to 1.2 makes behind the arc at a scorching 51.1 percent!

Sidenotes

Everyone knows Pascal loves to yell on nearly every drive and scream “and oneee” whenever he gets the chance. This second quarter basket was especially hilarious because it didn’t count until Pascal asked at LEAST seven times.

The Nuggets have to be thrilled that they are done seeing Pascal. In two games vs Denver this season, Siakam averaged 34 points (28-44 shooting), 7.5 rebounds, 7 assists and two steals.

What’s Next?

Game five of a very successful road trip lands in L.A. against the Lakers on Monday. The Raptors are 3-1 so far and now only trail the Cavs by one game for the six seed.

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