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Five thoughts on last night: Nuggets 121, Raptors 111

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A frustrating lineup choice doomed the Raptors against the Nuggets, but there’s still plenty of good and fun things to cheer about. 

Five thoughts recap: Denver Nuggets 121, Toronto Raptors 111, Malachi Flynn Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images

Three quarters of fun ball? I suppose, if there’s nothing else left to cheer for, I’m OK with that.

Still, with the Toronto Raptors right there against a hot Denver Nuggets team, it was frustrating to watch the team throw it away in the fourth quarter. I suppose I shouldn’t be expecting anything more at this point, but still… I like winning. Alas.

1. Try to Win, or Don’t

As I often find myself, I come away from last night’s game rather perplexed by Nick Nurse’s rotation decisions.

It’s a two-point game, on the road, against one of the best teams in the league. And Nurse starts the fourth… with four bench players and his rookie point guard? No OG Anunoby, no Pascal Siakam, no Kyle Lowry?

The bench quickly gave up a 9-0 run… and OG, Kyle and Pascal all came back in. Along with Stanley Johnson. Unsurprisingly, that didn’t stop the bleeding and the Nuggets scored six more in a row and the rout was on.

I know you can’t play the starters 48 minutes. I know the Denver altitude makes it tough. But if ever there was a time to play your best players extended minutes, it was in game one of an extended road trip in which every game is a must win, a game in which you trail by two points heading into the fourth quarter. Because if you lose… what are you saving them for? There’s nothing left to play for!

This is not a serious team.

2. It’s not Just Kyle!

I wrote about the Kyle Lowry-Khem Birch chemistry the other day, but last night showed us that it’s not just Kyle Lowry that’s dropping dimes to the new guy.

The Raptors opened the scoring with a Malachi Flynn-Khem Birch pick-and-roll, which they ran to perfection. Then OG Anunoby dished two perfect passes to Birch in the paint!

And in the third, even Pascal Siakam found Birch on a 2-on-1 after a steal.

So it’s not just Kyle, and in fact, we probably need to give the credit to Khem Birch. The Raptors finally have a centre who knows how to find the right spots on the floor — and he’s making it easy for his teammates to find him.

One other Khem Birch note — I was really impressed at how well he’s able to switch on D and guard different players. Yesterday at various points he guarded Nikola Jokic, Michael Porter, Aaron Gordon and Facundo Campazzo, all on the perimeter, and all relatively effectively.

And of course, he also scored a career-high 20.

Am I all-in on the Khem Birch propaganda? … maybe. He’s not, well, Nikola Jokic. And he may not even have a long tenure with the Raptors — he might be playing himself out of their price range. And I’m sure the Raptors want to explore all possible options this offseason.

Then again…

3. Best Play in Sports

OK, that might be an exaggeration, but is there anything more fun this Raptors season than an OG Anunoby “pick-six”?

One wonders when opposing teams will figure this out; you can’t throw soft passes around the perimeter when OG is lurking around!

Anyway, OG scored 25, his sixth straight game of 20+ points, and since coming back from the health and safety protocols, he’s averaging 18.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists on 49/41/82 shooting splits. [fans self]

4. Well-Deserved Night Off

Kinda glad that Fred VanVleet got the night off last night. Not just because he felt like, as Danielle Michaud spelled out on air, S-H-I-T (I’ve never heard someone explicitly spell it out on live TV! You go Danielle!), but because it was a great opportunity for Malachi Flynn to start next to Kyle Lowry.

They looked great together early. With Flynn playing on ball, Kyle was free to put up more shots, and he scored a dozen by halftime.

Things changed by the fourth; perhaps struck by the altitude, Flynn could not lead the second unit and threw the ball away twice down the stretch after the other starters came back in.

But again — these are good learning reps for Flynn and the Raptors. And since Nurse isn’t serious about winning, let’s see some more of this, yes?

5. Play-in or Nah?

What’s everyone think of the play-in tournament? I don’t think I love the format. I really liked what they did last year, where the ninth place team, as long as it was within four number of games of the eighth place team, had two win two games to get in.

This year, with the expansion to 10 teams instead of nine, it’s more confusing — and also less logical. I won’t go into the rules (read ‘em here) but it doesn’t matter how close you are to the final spot, if you’re in the top 10, you’re in the play-in.

I get why the NBA is doing it, on paper — to try and even things out for teams that have been impacted by COVID. But it also adds games to the already overlong schedule!

Maybe I’m salty because the Raptors couldn’t hang with the freakin’ Wizards in this dang play-in chase. But I wish the NBA would have just stuck with that they did last season. At least it would have made the last couple of weeks less annoying for me as a Raptors fan.

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So that should just about do it, right? The play-in dream is dead?

Before last night’s game started I said to my wife, that this was the first time in a long time I just wanted a Raptors season to end. After that loss, it’s even more true. It’s time end this Tampa experiment and put this whole awful season out of its misery.