After 20 years without Raptors basketball, the fans in Calgary got their money’s worth on Monday night. A competitive tilt between the Raptors and Nuggets ended with Norman Powell missing a game-winning three attempt, as Denver pulled out the 108-106 win.
The Nuggets got quality performances from “Jurkic”, the frontcourt combination of Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic, who started together and combined for 27 points and 16 rebounds. The win, though, ultimately came thanks to their deep roster of guards. Wilson Chandler, Malik Beasley, and, yes, Jamal Murray all played well as the starters rested in the second half.
For the Raptors, it would be folly to put too fine a focus on preseason performances, but Terrence Ross was unabashed for the second straight game. Showing defensive effort and offensive mega-confidence, he poured in a game-high 23 points in 20 minutes, shooting 8-for-12. He even got out for a vintage T-Ross fast break dunk.
The Raptors were also helped along by Jonas “toque hair” Valanciunas, who followed up a mediocre first half with a dominant third quarter, finishing with 20 points and nine rebounds. Valanciunas looked a little lost playing with the starters, but as DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry took the second half off, he commanded attention on the interior, becoming the beneficiary of dump-offs and five-foot jumpers. The Jonas we know and love.
Otherwise, here’s some of my other observations that had less impact on the game’s outcome:
- Norman Powell is amazing. Playing with a mostly 905 crew in the fourth quarter, he showed off a tight, confident shooting stroke, keeping the Raps in it until the final horn. If Ross and Powell continue to play like they have into the regular season, Toronto will be in the conversation for the league’s best bench unit.
- The “fourth big” question remains interesting. Bebe Nogueira and Pascal Siakam look like the most likely candidates, but the pros and cons of each were on display in this one. Bebe rolls hard and has defensive impact with his length, but lacks the pure hustle and nose for the ball of Siakam. On the other hand, Siakam is still very frantic with the ball in his hands — he was scoreless with five rebounds in this one.
- Fred VanVleet is fun as hell, and should have the inside track for the team’s 15th roster spot. He penetrated at will in the fourth quarter, setting up Nogueira and Jakob Poetl time and time again with great touch passes in traffic. Denver never adjusted, and VanVleet kept attacking. He looks at home with the NBA game.
- Bruno(!) got the start and looked... bad. He still has moments where the arms shock his opponent, including a first half block, but everything else is so unrefined.
The next preseason outing for the Raptors is in Los Angeles on Wednesday to play the Clippers. The countdown to real basketball is at 22 days.