Despite a brilliant 25-point showing by Jordan Hamilton, the Toronto Raptors beat their first-round opponent in the Denver Nuggets 95-78, earning a trip to the next round on Saturday against the Phoenix Suns at 6:00PM EST.
Offensively, they were clicking as a unit, demonstrating great ball movement and having several players contribute by putting the ball in the basket. Six of their players finished in double-digits in scoring, including all five of their starters. An efficient 95-point performance makes this their best offensive game in Vegas this year.
Terrence Ross logged Toronto's first basket 38 seconds into the game, followed by two buckets by Quincy Acy. The Raptors went 5-for-5 from the field to start the game, their first miss coming on a running hook shot by Jonas Valanciunas with 4:50 left in the first quarter. They ended the quarter shooting a blistering 10-for-14 from the field. Unfortunately, they weren't as great defensively, allowing the Nuggets to score nine of their 17 attempts. However, they made the necessary adjustments for the remainder of the game and held the Nuggets to just 36 percent or 22-for-61 thereon after.
The story of the game was the impressive play and leadership by the Raptors' newest player, 6'3" point-guard Dwight Buycks out of Marquette. He had his best game as a Raptor, leading his team and doing it all with 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting to go along with 10 assists and six rebounds. He did an excellent job of finding the open man for the corner-three all game long by penetrating inside at will and drawing defenders in the lane. He also showcased his ability to score in different ways, hitting a few step-back jumpers and drawing contact and finishing on layups. He also did an excellent job from the free-throw line, going a perfect 5-for-5.
This particular play deserves a mention for the new kid (and for the high-flyer, Chris Wright): a beautiful dish to Wright on a fast-break with 2:05 left in the third quarter for a monstrous two-hand jam.
Buycks did end up finishing with five turnovers, most of them sloppy, so he will have to work on his decision-making and familiarity with the Raptors' system. Of course, the latter is obvious.
In the first three Summer League games combined, Ross went to the free-throw line a total of eight times. He did an excellent job of getting to the line in this game, particularly in the first quarter, where he made all six of his attempts from the charity stripe. He also went 2-for-3 in the second quarter. Unfortunately, Ross was a no-show at the line in the second half, failing to get there a single time in that timespan. He finished the game with 17 points on 4-for-11 shooting, taking a few ill-advised long-range shots, and eight rebounds.
Jonas Valanciunas logged his second double-double of Summer League play, posting 15 points on a very efficient 5-for-7 from the field, also grabbing 12 rebounds, three assists and two blocks. The sophomore lead the onslaught on the glass for the Raptors, as they absolutely dominated the Nuggets 48-28 in the rebounding battle. Prior to the game, Valanciunas was averaging 9.3 rebounds-per-game, including 2.3 offensive rebounds. It should come to no surprise then that the big man grabbed four rebounds on the offensive glass, including one with 5:20 left in the third quarter, where he grabbed the rebound off the Buycks miss and buried an absolute rim-shaking slam in the face of Quincy Miller, drawing a foul while doing so.
The Lithuanian didn't only impact the game offensively. He stifled the paint, scaring the Nuggets guards from taking it to the hole. Most of the time, he would force penetrators into tough looks that they missed most of the time or would block the shot attempt. His dominant presence forced Denver to shoot 28 three-point shots. Valanciunas also did an exceptional job of going straight up, something he had failed to do the three games prior. Averaging 6.3 fouls-per-game, the big man did an excellent job of defending without fouling in this particular contest even though his stat-line shows he finished with four fouls. Three of those fouls came in the fourth quarter, two of which were in garbage time, that is, when the game was just about wrapped up. Finally, he continued his exceptional free-throw shooting, going 5-for-6 from the line.
The big flaw in the game for the Raptors was the amount of times they turned the ball over: a whopping 22 times. Breaking them down by quarter, they had four in the first, five in the second, seven in the third and six in the fourth. Heading into their game against the Suns on Saturday, they're averaging an extremely poor 21.75 turnovers-per-game. Granted, they have won three out of their four games while turning the ball over at such an alarming rate, but they will need to be much more careful with the ball, as this is definitely a recipe for disaster.
It'll be a great one as we watch Toronto take on the likes of Kendall Marshall, Markieff Morris and the rest of the Phoenix squad in the second round of the Las Vegas Summer League Championship on Saturday night. Until then, enjoy the many games that have yet to be played!
Peter Chalach - Twitter: @peterchalach