Plenty of things you can complain about from that one. Rebounding. Continued misuse of Delon Wright (who was awesome) and Fred VanVleet (who was, uh, less so). Rebounding. Officiating (we’ll get into that). Cold shooting. Rebounding. Poor defence from the two bigs. Rebounding.
But hey. The Raptors are now an extremely good 20-5. Do we really have a lot to complain about? And, uh, at least they didn’t blow a double-digit lead in this one?
On to the thoughts:
I Don’t Want to Talk About the Foul
Naturally we can’t talk about the game without talking about the last seven seconds, featuring a very hard-to-swallow dead ball foul call that gave the Nuggets an extra free throw, and essentially handed them the game.
I’m confident in saying that Serge Ibaka fouled Nikola Jokic. Ibaka “impeded” Jokic’s movement, in the NBA’s parlance. You can definitely argue that similar fouls happen on virtually every inbounds play, particularly at the the end of games, and are rarely called. But, a foul is a foul, and if the teams’ positions were reversed we’d expect it called.
I think the thing that bothers me about the call, is the intent of the dead ball rule was violated on that play. The dead-ball inbounds foul rule is in place to prevent trailing teams from intentionally fouling and getting the ball back without any time on the game clock having elapsed. That would give the team without the ball an unfair advantage; the rule ensures the leading team has the opportunity to run an offensive play, and that the trailing team has to defend and foul on a live ball play. It’s a “spirit of the game” rule.
In this situation, the score was tied. The rule is still the rule, but in this case it has the exact opposite effect: Here, the team with the ball gained an unfair advantage, because they got to score without the opposing team having to play defense, and then the opposing team wasn’t given the opportunity to defend straight up in a tie game. Allowing a team to score in such a way is not in the spirit of the game.
A small tweak to this rule — have it only apply to defending teams who are trailing in the final two minutes, otherwise it’s a regular off-ball foul, subject to regular bonus rules —would fix the issue.
Why is Closing Quarters so Hard for This Team?
With four minutes to go in the first quarter last night, the Raptors were up 20-17; by the end of the frame the Nuggets were up 27-24.
With four minutes to go in the second quarter, the score was tied, 41-41; by the end of the half the Nuggets were back up 59-47.
The Raptors also lost the final four minutes of the third quarter by two points; by my math, that made them a -20 in the final third across each of the first three quarters.
So what’s the deal? First impulse is to say it’s the bench, but that second quarter stretch included the starters to start, and then Jonas Valanciunas replacing Pascal Siakam for a momentary double-big minute; Ibaka, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Kyle Lowry all played the whole four minutes; mainly because of that stretch Lowry and Leonard each finished in the negative double-digits in plus-minus. So it’s not (solely) the bench. Do they lose focus as the clock ticks down? Are players trying to get their numbers before the quarter ends?
I don’t know what the answer is. But I sure hope it’s something that can be fixed.
Let’s Put the Kawhi Leonard Isn’t Clutch Talk to Bed, Shall We?
Look, the guy’s been rusty. In previous clutch situations, he dribbled a ball off his foot, missed a long two, passed up a shot to pass out as the clock expired... heck, last night be bricked a three from the corner with 1:42 to go.
But then! The pull-up jumper with 55 second to go to put the Raptors up by 1.
And then! The short fadeaway to tie it.
With the Raptors out of timeouts, Leonard didn’t get another chance. But on those two? Clutch as all hell. And super-exciting to watch. Let’s not have this conversation again.
The Nuggets Out-Lowry’ed Kyle Lowry
Leo Rautins called it out on the broadcast, and I found it hilarious. With 2:40 go in the fourth, the Raptors turned the ball over, and the Nuggets rushed to inbound it quickly, while the Raptors were still getting back, to take advantage. And they did! The Nuggets whipped it ahead to to Paul Millsap, who turned and found Malik Beasley open from downtown on the wing.
The play was notable because A) it’s something Kyle Lowry does all the time, and B) Lowry tried to do it earlier in the same game — and officials wouldn’t give him the ball right away!
Which made me wonder — shouldn’t there be some consistency with how quickly a ball is given to a player? Why do they sometime let a player inbound it quickly, while other times they hold it back? I mean, I enjoy the heck out of it when Lowry does it, but consistency would probably be better.
You Can Blame the Refs, But...
The Raptors had a chance—three, actually—to take the lead earlier.
With 1:40 to play, and the Raptors trailing by one, Lowry got the ball on the left wing isolated on Jokic. He completely blew by him and had a lane to the rim; Paul Millsap was lurking, so Lowry dished it out to Ibaka on the right wing. Now, I’m confident Lowry can score over Millsap, or at least draw a foul, so I don’t love the pass. But, Ibaka was open, and as the defense shifted, he swung the ball to Leonard in the corner. Millsap was closing out hard, and it looked like Leonard may have rushed it, because he shot an airball (it may have grazed the side of the backboard, it was hard to tell). Anyway the point is: The Raptors had a great scoring opportunity and didn’t cash in.
Three plays later, it was 102-101 Denver and the Raptors had another opportunity. This time, though, the offense bogged down and Leonard got stuck in the left corner with two defenders on him. He was able to dribble out and find Danny Green, but Green was covered well by Jamal Murray. With the shot clock winding down, Green had to take a step-back long two pointer that, while a good-looking, in-rhythm shot, is a very difficult make.
But the Raptors crashed the glass hard, with both Leonard and Ibaka getting their hands on the ball, and Lowry ultimately scooping it up and dishing it to Green... who was wide open from downtown. The shot simply didn’t go down.
That’s two good shots and one decent shot; the Raptors gave themselves chances, sometimes they just don’t drop. One questionable call after all of that doesn’t erase it.
(Also worth noting: I’m pretty sure Pascal Siakam traveled before dishing the ball to Serge Ibaka on the bucket that tied the game at 94. Officiating is never gonna be perfect.)
All right, so that’s a tough loss, time to shake it off and get ready for Philly on Tuesday night.
Oh, and if you’re looking for the silver lining:
Also, the four remaining Monday games are:— kelsea (@kelsea_lately) December 4, 2018
Everything is fiiiiiiiiine