Going into this game, it was hard to see how the Raptors would be able to pull off a win. They were matched up against an elite center in Nikola Jokic without any true centers in their own rotation, having lost Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka to injury. Jokic, predictably went off, scoring an efficient 23 points to go along with 18 rebounds and 11 assists. What was less predictable was the Nuggets decimating the Raptors’ perimeter defense by shooting 18-of-36 from three. OG Anunoby had a career night, scoring 32 points and recording 7 steals, but whatever slim hope that brought was ultimately dashed as the Raptors lost 133-118.
The Raptors started out the game trying to take away the paint, collapsing their defense when Jokic caught it inside, looking to dissuade the Nuggets from attacking their most advantageous matchup. Of course, that came with a cost, the Raptors abandoned the Nuggets’ shooters to crowd Jokic, and the Nuggets consistently found the open man, draining their first 8 threes. Jamal Murray got into an early rhythm off of the Nuggets’ inside-out attack, to the point that he eventually didn’t even need Jokic to get him open. Murray started swishing quick-release threes with only the slightest bit of space, notching 17 points in the first.
As much as they were hurt by the Nuggets’ perimeter shooting, when the Raptors failed to gang up on the interior, the results didn’t look much better. Jokic schooled the overmatched Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in the post whenever he was allowed to take Hollis-Jefferson one-on-one, going 3-for-3 from the field in the opening frame.
That the Raptors were able to keep the game remotely close was due mostly to the efforts of OG Anunoby. Anunoby jumped passing lanes to deny Jokic, and punished the Nuggets’ willingness to switch by crashing the offensive glass for easy scores. He scored 13 points first quarter points, and was a perfect 5-of-5 from the field, but the entire rest of the team floundered, going a combined 4-of-18. All things told, the quarter ended with the Nuggets up 40-32.
The Raptors’ bench started the second quarter on a short tear, as Terence Davis and Chris Boucher both nailed threes, and Norman Powell attacked Jokic on a switch. But, echoing the first quarter, they could do nothing to slow the Nuggets’ attack. Jokic scored through Boucher with ease when they went inside, and he just as easily facilitated for his teammates when they didn’t. The Nuggets flummoxed the Raptors’ defense with a combination of off-ball movement and size, allowing them to maintain their early margin.
The cracks in the Nuggets pass-happy offense began to show part way through the second however, as the Raptors got more active in the passing lanes, creating transition opportunities. Anunoby again led the charge, picking up 4 steals in the quarter (he had 6 in the first half alone), while Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell got their scoring going, notching 9 and 8 in the frame respectively. A late surge from that trio allowed the Raptors to trim the Nuggets’ lead to 73-69 at halftime.
Conspicuous in his ineffectiveness throughout the first half was Pascal Siakam, who finished the half 2-of-11 from the floor, with just 5 points. Siakam struggled to get easy shots in the matchup against Jerami Grant, but his touch was iffy even when he got open. The Raptors made a conscious effort to help Siakam reverse course early in the third, and while he scored on his first post-up against Grant in the second half, Siakam continued to have issues from the perimeter and stifled the Raptors’ momentum with turnovers. He’d ultimately end the game just 6-of-21 from the floor, totalling 16 points.
The Raptors’ aggressiveness seeking out transition opportunities allowed them to keep things close in spite of Siakam’s struggles, as they often ran even off made field goals. Anunoby was again the lynchpin, he set his career high in points partway through the quarter and then continued to build on it, by the end of the frame he had the 32 he’d finish the night with. Even as the rest of the team waned, that performance kept the margin close, and by the end of the third the Raptors were again down just 4, trailing 100-96.
The fourth saw the momentum swing three times. First, things started to unravel for Raptors early on due to some struggles from their bench, which was a weak spot for a second consecutive game. The bench was unable to contend with the Nuggets’ size on the interior, and while Siakam was left in the game to lead them offensively, he continued to flounder. The Nuggets’ grew their lead to double-digits by the 8 minute mark of the fourth, resulting in Nick Nurse re-inserting most of his starters.
Those starters then clawed back in it by picking up their defense, slowing dragging the margin back to where it was to begin the quarter. Then, finally, it seemed the Colorado mountain air got to the Raptors’ starters, as they appeared to simply ran out of gas. They found themselves unable to defend without fouling, while they flubbed easy interior finishes on the other end. The collapse was sudden, the Raptors trailed by 5 with less than 5 minutes left, but ultimately ended up losing 133-118.
On the road, without Gasol, Ibaka and VanVleet this was always going to be an uphill battle for the Raptors. Most of the positive takeaways here have to do with Anunoby, who carried them both defensively and offensively. With the Raptors’ total lack of size in this game, however, they were going to need their perimeter defense to lock things down in order to make up for the easy points they were bound to give up on the inside. The Nuggets hot shooting simply buried any hope of that in an avalanche of threes.