Morning Coffee – Tue, Mar 7

Bullshit. Fucking bullshit loss to the Nuggets.

Amid Scottie Barnes’ controversial ejection, Nick Nurse shows his value – The Athletic

The Raptors looked totally prepared to deal with Jokić. In a minor surprise, Nurse put O.G. Anunoby on the two-time defending MVP and Jakob Poeltl on Aaron Gordon. Gordon wasn’t able to do much with the burst advantage he has on Poeltl, and by the end of many possessions, the Raptors’ switching concepts had Poeltl on Jokić when it came time for a shot attempt. The Raptors overplayed the star a few times, opening up opportunities elsewhere, but that is a reasonable price to pay against such an efficient offensive team.

“Jokić likes to bring the ball up the floor,” Nurse said in explaining the decision. “(Anunoby) didn’t really let him into that part of his game much, which is great. He just worked tirelessly all night.”

Alas, it didn’t end up mattering. Thanks to some questionable officiating, peaking with referee Scott Foster ejecting Scottie Barnes from the game with 28.3 seconds left, we didn’t get much of an ending. There were borderline calls both ways. Nurse lost his challenge on a Barnes foul on Jokić off the ball that resulted in two Denver free throws, but Nuggets coach Mike Malone won his challenge when Jokić was initially called for a foul on Barnes that negated two would-be Raptors attempts.

Foster said he ejected Barnes on just one technical foul instead of the normal two because he used “verbiage … which directly questioned the integrity of the crew.” Barnes was adamant that he was expressing frustration to himself rather than the referees. Barnes was clearly annoyed with the whistle all night but didn’t believe anything he said during the course of the game rose to abnormal levels.

It’s understandable why the implication of conscious bias is a huge problem for the referees, and there is probably a lesson in there for Barnes about what can and can’t be uttered. At the same time, it seemed a silly moment to make that point, to say nothing of the other calls which slowed the game to a halt.

“I was just saying something to myself and I guess he took offence to it and just threw me out of the game,” Barnes said.

“There was absolutely nothing there — nothing. Scottie wasn’t involved,” Nurse said of the call that came before the ejection. “They called the foul on (Poeltl). There was nothing there.”

Without assigning blame, Nurse said the end ruined a potentially great ending, and he’s not wrong. Nurse put together a game plan good enough to beat the league’s best home team. Aside from a stretch to start the third quarter, the Raptors’ defence held up really well in the half court. The most obvious problems surfaced when they coughed up the ball on their own accord. The Raptors can be mad at the officials, but the moments they played carelessly with the ball did them in, too.

Offensively, the message was clear, too. It wasn’t elegant, but the Raptors put Jokić into pick-and-roll actions over and over again, sometimes within the same possession. There was not much deviating from that, and Poeltl and Fred VanVleet responded with mammoth nights. When VanVleet tired down the stretch, the Raptors got the ball in Pascal Siakam’s hands — although he didn’t manage to get the same quality of looks.

‘Absolutely nothing there’: Raptors in disbelief after refs eject Barnes in tough loss – Sportsnet

“We played great. We’ve been playing well,” said coach Nick Nurse. “We play like that, and we can beat anybody, doesn’t matter if it’s home or away or where they are in the standings, et cetera. Probably outplayed ’em, to be honest, and think we executed very, very well.”

The end the game will likely be remembered for an officiating controversy – how controversial depends on your perspective – that may have been the difference in what ended up being a 118-113 loss that could have easily ended up in the Raptors’ favour. Instead of evening their record for the first time since the opening weeks of the season, the Raptors slipped back to 32-34 . Rather than pull ahead of Atlanta for eighth place, they remain in ninth.

Toronto led by six with six minutes to play before Denver finished the game on a 23-10 run – 13-2 in the last 2:15 — and pulled out the win after the Raptors controlled the contest for most of the night, wasting an otherwise excellent effort from the visitors against one of the NBA’s best teams. The Western Conference-leading Nuggets improved to 46-19 and 30-4 on their home court.

But the turning point of the game wasn’t a thread-the-needle pass from Jokic for a crucial basket or dagger form Murray. Instead the game tipped on a pair of foul calls in the final 50 seconds. First, what looked like a shooting foul on a Scottie Barnes drive was challenged by Nuggets head coach Mike Malone and successfully over-turned, taking away a pair of free throws that could have put Toronto up by one.

Then, on the next possession, more controversy: after Jakob Poeltl was called for a loose-ball foul, Barnes was very suddenly ejected by crew chief Scott Foster. The result was three free throws by the Nuggets, who made them all and were suddenly up by four with 28.3 seconds to play.

There are two issues. Nurse felt strongly that the first Barnes call should never have been reversed (the ruling was the Jokic hit Barnes’ hand and the ball, so not a foul per NBA rules, according to the officials] and was even more convinced that the call on Poeltl was dubious at best.

“I think it was a great game that looked like it was coming down to a great ending,” said Nurse. “It’s a little bit unfortunate that we didn’t get to see that ending, at all. Especially on the one Scottie got ejected on. There was absolutely nothing there — nothing. Scottie wasn’t involved. They called the foul on Jak. There was nothing there.”

Well, except that Barnes was involved, though he’s adamant his comments weren’t aimed directly at the referees: “I was just saying something to myself [after the call on Poeltl] and I guess he took offence to it and just threw me out of the game.  I was just talking to myself.”

According to Foster, via a pool reporter:  He [Barnes] was ejected on one technical foul because he used verbiage that … directly questioned the integrity of the crew.”

Interpret that as you might.

Toronto Raptors lift their game, but Denver Nuggets close strong to win, 118-113 – Raptors HQ

Facing the Western Conference-leading Denver Nuggets, who come equipped with the MVP frontrunner in Nikola Jokic, in their gym was a tall task on paper — but the Raptors looked up to the challenge from the opening tip. An early 12-6 lead was a portend of things to come. Toronto shot 50 percent from the field, made ten threes and got double-digit scoring from six players. They won the first and third quarters and OG Anunoby held Jokic to just 17 points on eight shots. They turned the Nuggets over 14 times and led by as many as ten.

They still lost.

Coming back in the late stages of the game, the Nuggets found just enough of an execution edge — along with a dramatic, whistle-filled last two minutes — to beat the Raptors, 118-113. The loss came at a tough time for Toronto, as an Atlanta Hawks loss earlier in the evening left the door open for a jump into the eighth seed. Unfortunately, the Raptors weren’t able to step through the opening.

Though real basketball was played tonight (at a high level too!), we have to talk about how this game finished.

The Nuggets were already making a run as the game hit its last three minutes, but an all-out circus started after Jamal Murray hit a three-pointer with 2:03 left to cut a Raptors six-point lead in half. Neither team ended up making a field goal for the rest of the game; instead, we saw a dramatic tightening of what was otherwise a loose whistle for the rest of the night. A Scott Foster-led crew spent much of proceedings letting physical play go, allowing the Raptors to physically battle Jokic inside on one end, while giving the Nuggets opportunity to do the same to Toronto’s star players on the other. Then, like someone had pulled the plug, the crew started to call everything.

After an unsuccessful coach’s challenge on what should’ve been a no call — Scottie Barnes and Jokic tangling off-ball after a screen — the Nuggets got what looked to be a correct, successful challenge call to go their way on contact created by Barnes shooting over Jokic on the other end. The four-point swing in free throws put the Nuggets up three, and on the next trip down the floor, Jakob Poeltl was called for minor contact under the hoop and Scottie Barnes — who said… something incongruent with flowery adjectives — was called for two technicals, in quick succession, by Foster to get ejected and essentially seal the game. It didn’t look like it was much, truly. See for yourself!

It was a sour way to end what was otherwise a great game. Murray ended up being the hero for Denver, as an explosion of scoring out of halftime kept his team in the game, before two late baskets provided the difference. He finished with a game-high 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting. Jokic was quiet, but the numbers are always there for Denver’s fulcrum, as he put up a near-triple-double: 17 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists.

The Raptors, meanwhile, showed delicate scoring balance up and down their lineup. Fred VanVleet led the way, and put together one of his best games of the season, even without eye-popping digits. With 21 points and 14 assists, VanVleet showed great court awareness — especially in pick and roll combinations with Poeltl — setting up open shooters and cutters, and adding an occasional hockey assist. The offensive selfishness that tends to plague the Raptors when they’re not engaged was nowhere to be found tonight — and that started with Fred.

Raptors mile high until final seconds in loss to Denver | The Star

There are no moral victories, and the Raptors missed a chance to move into eighth place in the Eastern Conference, but their overall performance was impressive. It was one of their most thorough performances in a while: a combination of patient, effective offence and a solid defensive effort in the most difficult arena for road teams.

There were blips — a rash of turnovers to start the third quarter, and bad closeouts to the first three quarters — but there was more than enough good to take away from the night. And since the goal is incremental improvement over the last month of the regular season, some major steps were taken.

“We’ve got a chance to be really good defensively. I don’t think we’re really good or great yet … so we’re still striving to make progress on that defensive end,” coach Nick Nurse said. “I still say the offence is running OK. We need to shot-make better, but I think the rhythm and all that stuff, the shots we’re creating are there.”

The Raptors didn’t do anything unexpected in trying to slow two-time MVP Nikola Jokic. Denver expected to see myriad defensive schemes and looks.

O.G. Anunoby got the job, while Jakob Poeltl guarded Jokic a bit and was the double-team guy on other occasions. Chris Boucher had the responsibility, Precious Achiuwa had it, and the Raptors played some zone. The Nuggets knew it was coming, and weren’t particularly worried.

“When you’re a great player like Nikola, you’ve seen almost every conceivable defensive idea,” Denver coach Michael Malone said before the game.

“In the past, teams like Toronto with Nick Nurse, they’ve gotten very creative. Nick has used a box-and-one, triangle-and-two, zone, pressure, switching. So, you always have to be ready when you play Toronto for the number of defences they can throw at you, but I feel really confident that with Nikola’s experience and his IQ, he’s going to figure out how to break that code. It’s a matter of time, and it’s a matter of when.”

Jokic wasn’t brilliant Monday night — although 17 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists isn’t anything to laugh at — but he was able to figure out what the Raptors were doing with him.

“He seems to have an answer for just about everything,” Nurse said. “I’ve only been in this league for 10 years. There are not a whole lot of guys that I can count on my fingers that have had that answer to it all.”

Raptors Go Toe-to-Toe With Nuggets But Mistakes Prove Costly – Sports Illustrated Toronto Raptors News, Analysis and More

An awkward turnover from Fred VanVleet, iffy transition defense all night, some questionable foul calls against Toronto, and an ill-timed technical foul and ejection from Scottie Barnes were all the Nuggets needed to show why they remain among the NBA’s best. The Raptors fought hard but, as has been the case too often this season, it wasn’t enough as Toronto once again squandered a late lead, falling 118-113 to the Nuggets.

No lead felt secure Monday night. Even when Toronto jumped ahead double digits early and held an eight-point lead in the fourth, there was a sense that Denver was going to respond. A Jamal Murray three-pointer cut Toronto’s lead to three late in the fourth and too many empty possessions and mental gaffs from the Raptors allowed the Nuggets to do what they seem to always do.

Turnovers proved costly all night and five from VanVleet erased what was otherwise a brilliant showing from the 29-year-old guard. He picked up right where left off Saturday night for the Raptors, facilitating the offense, working the pick-and-roll with Jakob Poeltl, and getting into the paint for buckets. He scored or assisted on 15 of Toronto’s first 28 points as the Raptors jumped ahead early.

O.G. Anunoby took the Nikola Jokic assignment from the jump with Scottie Barnes on Murray and Poeltl on Aaron Gordon. The unorthodox strategy allowed Toronto to better prepare for ball screen situations with more liberal screening. It worked for the most part as Toronto held Jokic to just 17 points on 5-for-8 shooting that included an MVP-worthy two-handed shot that he seemed to pass into the net with Precious Achiuwa draped all over him.

The Raptors jumped ahead by as many as 10 points in the first half as Pascal Siakam nailed a trio of tough jumpers. But a pair of threes from Michael Porter Jr. and a momentary lapse in energy from Toronto just before the end of the second quarter allowed the Nuggets to pull within three on an Aaron Gordon alley-oop.

An inability to get back in transition, heck, even after made buckets plagued Toronto. Couple that with 15 turnovers including a pair from Poeltl to open the second half allowed Denver to take the lead on a Murray three-pointer, one of five he hit, finishing the night with 24 points.

VanVleet, though, wouldn’t let the Nuggets get away. He’s looked stellar as a playmaker for Toronto since the trade deadline, adding another double-digit assist performance Monday night with 14 assists to go with 21 points. He even bailed the Raptors out of a late-shot clock disaster with a 33-footer he somehow swished as Toronto recaptured the lead.

Gary Trent Jr. got into his bag of tricks, hitting a pair of tough step-back jumpers and a Will Barton three opened the Raptors’ lead to six against Denver’s second unit early in the fourth. But a Nuggets timeout in response meant the return of Jokic and a quick erasing of Toronto’s lead.

The Miami Heat’s victory over the Atlanta Hawks earlier in the night means the Raptors won’t lose ground in the race for the eighth seed in the conference.

One of Raptors’ better efforts goes for naught in Denver | Toronto Sun

Toronto was in control most of the night, holding the lead for all but just over three minutes of the game, but it was the most important minutes in which they didn’t hold that lead.

The Nuggets, who lead the Western Conference, went on a 15-4 run to end the game overtaking the Raptors and then putting it away when Scottie Barnes was whistled for a technical foul by veteran official Scott Foster in the final minute.

A foul was called on Jakob Poeltl with the Nuggets holding a one-point lead. Barnes appeared to make a gesture which prompted Foster to issue the technical which ended Barnes night.

Barnes seemed unsure what he had done or said to deserve the T, as did Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, but the result were three free throws, two for the initial foul and one for the tech which the Nuggets converted making it a two-possession game with 28 seconds left.

The Raptors didn’t score again.

It was a tough result for a Raptors’ effort that probably deserved better in one of their better games of the year.
With a full squad and fully rested after a practice day in the Denver altitude to get a little more acclimated, the Raptors came out prepared for Denver’s best shot.
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Whether they got it or not will depend on how much credit one wants to give the Raptors’ defence.
Toronto’s defence deserved the credit first, limiting the likely MVP of the league in Nikola Jokic to just 17 points and nine assists.

Whether it was OG Anunoby or Poeltl or Barnes, the Raptors refused to let the likely soon-to-be three-time MVP take the game over.

ut the Nuggets are more than just Jokic. In terms of scoring, they can also go to Michael Porter Jr. or Canada’s own Jamal Murray to carry the load offensively if Jokic is commanding a lot of attention as he was Monday night.

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