Well, they can’t all be the roof of the Sistine Chapel, can they?
The Raptors went into Denver on Friday night, and kicked things off in style, leading by 10 after the first quarter, and seeming like they might be able to start their road trip with an easy win over a newly configured Nuggets team, whose most talented players still need time to grow.
What followed was about as pretty as the streets of Dublin on the morning after St Patrick’s Day.
The Raptors got absolutely whipped in the second, turning the ball over 5 times and losing the frame 38-23 to a Denver squad that was outworking and outrunning them, led by Kenneth Faried. Cory Joseph in particular seemed to struggle with Emmanuel Mudiay and his size/athleticism, which was the case the first time these teams met this season as well. It’s game like this that make a fan pine for the long arms of Delon Wright.
Toronto came out with a much better third quarter, as the teams played to a 25-25 draw. In particular, a 5 man unit featuring Lowry with Terrence Ross, Norm Powell, Patrick Patterson and Jakob Poeltl brought energy and pushed the Raptors back into the game, just when it felt like things might begin to slip away. Joseph replaced Lowry late in the third, and that unit stayed on together until there were only 6 minutes left in the fourth, which seems in retrospect, about two minutes too long. However, they were playing well and DeRozan did have four fouls, so what’re you gonna do?
A wild sequence at the end of regulation saw Jameer Nelson give Denver the lead on a three with 20 seconds left, DeRozan put Toronto back ahead with 15, Wilson Chandler make 1 of 2 from the line with 12.5 seconds remaining to tie it, and then DeRozan miss a potentially game winning turnaround at the buzzer, sending the game to overtime tied at 102.
Overtime was a back and forth affair as well, but the Raptors outplayed the Nuggets to lead 112-108 with just under ten seconds remaining. Mudiay smartly attempted a shot from beyond halfcourt while Powell was trying to give a foul, and was rewarded with three free throws, all of which he made, to bring the score to 112-111. Toronto managed to inbound the ball and get Jonas Valanciunas to the line, where he made 1 of 2 to ice it, as Denver was out of timeouts and had to try the full court heave as time expired, coming nowhere close to paydirt.
Here are a bunch things I noticed during the game. Let’s give it the reverse Clint Eastwood.
DeMarre Carroll continues to struggle. He played just 22 minutes tonight, and sat for most of the second half in favour of Terrence Ross and Norm Powell, with good reason. He was aggressive on offense tonight, but sometimes overly so, missing an easy swing pass to a wide open Lowry for a three in the third quarter, only to brick his own contested look. He did score 11 points on 4/9 shooting, but was just 1 of 4 from deep, and again looked a step slow on defense, frequently having to gamble to get back in position and challenge shots.
3. The Raptors really struggled from the line in the game, making just 19/31 on the night. That number was at 12/22 at the end of regulation; better execution might have precluded overtime from happening in the first place.
2. Patrick Patterson was 0-4 from the floor (all three point attempts) and appeared hesitant to shoot late in the game. During the broadcast, a clip of Patterson and Lowry on the bench late in the fourth quarter showed Patterson angrily muttering to himself and Lowry calmly repeating ‘You gotta shoot that’ over and over. Not in an angry way, but just as an absolute matter of fact. Patterson is still working as hard as anyone, and managed to be a +5 with six rebounds, even though he didn’t score. Here’s hoping he finds his range soon.
1. The Jonas Valanciunas fadeaway jumper needs to die as quickly as it’s been born. His mid-range game is much improved this year, but this facet of it isn’t welcome. He tried it on his first two possessions, bricking both, and then again late in the fourth quarter, again hitting front rim. The three attempts came with Nurkic, Faried and Jokic guarding him. It wasn’t working, and is a low percentage shot that leaves him out of rebounding position. You’re 7 damn feet tall, go straight up and towards the basket.
3. Terrence Ross continues to be a boss. He was 4/5 from three tonight and sparked a stagnant offense in the second half. He’s found the consistency we always wished for him, and looks eminently comfortable in his own skin for the first time as a Raptor. Jonas Valanciunas had a quiet first half, but was an absolute monster on the glass in the fourth and OT. Toronto’s two fifth year players have become key cogs.
2. Wilson Chandler was again great for the Nuggets— this is in the ‘good’ column because it’ll be the kind of thing we’re used to once he’s a Raptor in February. Not the sexiest trade target, but good contract and a versatile player. Make it happen Masai!
1. Neither Lowry or DeRozan had their best game, and DeRozan in particular looked tired for the first time this year. It’ll be interesting to see if it was because of the thin mountain air, or if the heavy usage is beginning to wear on him. Still, despite some bumps along the way, Lowry still managed an 18/13 double double, and DeRozan put up a 30/5/4. As these two go, so do the Raptors.
I like to end things on a positive note, and there was certainly a lot to like from Toronto tonight. Winning in Denver is never easy, and this is a nice win, especially with tough games in Los Angeles and Houston ahead.
What did you think of the game?