The Toronto Raptors and Denver Nuggets gave the 500 fans in Scotiabank Arena a heck of a show tonight.
The two teams played a closely-contested 48 minutes that saw 16 lead changes and seven ties, and saw the teams’ two best players trade haymakers all night long.
Ultimately the game came down to the final shot — one where MVP Nikola Jokic made his presence felt, loud and clear.
Trailing 110-109 with less than 12 seconds to go, the Raptors turned to their favourite late game action — Fred VanVleet setting a screen for Pascal Siakam. The initial action didn’t work, but after a probing dribble that drew VanVleet’s defender, Siakam fired it to his pal Fred for the go-ahead three-pointer.
Unfortunately, the ball bounced long and although OG Anunoby hauled in the rebound, and looked to be in perfect position to lay in the winning basket — Jokic swooped in and swatted the ball away, sealing the Nuggets win.
JOKIC SAVES THE DAY. AGAIN. pic.twitter.com/Ba6xos5TRh— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) February 13, 2022
Toronto’s loss snaps their season-high eight-game winning streak, dropping their record to 31-24.
Jokic finished the game with 28 points, 16 rebounds, six assists and two blocks. Yeah, I’d say those are quality MVP numbers! But hey, speaking of MVP-like numbers, Pascal Siakam scored 35 for Toronto, along with 10 boards, seven assists and two steals.
Jokic’s size was a huge factor in this Nuggets win; he was dominant scoring early, and although the Raptors held him to just nine points after the first quarter, his presence around the glass allowed Denver to rack up a +15 rebounding advantage.
The Raptors didn’t do themselves any favours either, with another poor free throw shooting night — they finished the game just 11-for-17 from the triple.
With Jokic on the bench early in the fourth, the Raptors pushed their lead to 8, and a ninth straight win appeared to be in the team’s sights. But the Nuggets bench turned it around without Jokic on the floor; Bryn Forbes and Facundo Campazzo each hit threes during a 12-1 Denver run.
A long Siakam two stopped the bleeding, and a Gary Trent Jr. straight-line drive, with a high-window finish over DeMarcus Cousins, gave TO the lead back.
That’s when Jokic came back in, and he went right to work, scoring on an and-1 that flipped the lead again.
After a Bones Hyland three and Will Barton heave to beat an expiring shot clock gave the Nuggets a four-point lead with 30 seconds left, things looked grim for the Raps. But a beautiful ATO SLOB play from Nick Nurse saw — naturally — VanVleet screen for Siakam. VanVleet quickly slipped the screen, though, and raced out to the wing, where Siakam found him, for a three that was so clean it barely moved the net. A Raptors foul with 13 seconds to go put Nikola Jokic at the line, with Nuggets up 110-109, but the MVP missed both free throws, giving the Raptors their chance.
The first quarter was a Jokic scoring demonstration, as the MVP took a look over at Toronto’s lineup of 6’8” dudes and laughed. He baited OG Anunoby into two early fouls — one five feet behind the three-point line, the other on an and-1. OG did what he could against the bigger Jokic, including doing a decent job boxing him out on the defensive glass, but he had to sit with the pair of PFs.
Scottie Barnes did what he could against Jokic — including trying to take Jokic to the rim on the offensive end, and succeeding twice — but Jokic had his way with Barnes and anyone else on the floor. He got to the rim on two straight possessions, then got his own rebound two plays later and scored on and-1 — then did the exact same thing two minutes later.
But the time Jokic took a breather with 2.5 minutes to go in the quarter, he had 18 points on 8 shots, with four boards and two assists, and was 6-for-6 from the line.
nikola jokic to the entire raptors team: pic.twitter.com/rEouF7sPEj— alex (@steven_lebron) February 13, 2022
The Nuggets led 31-25 after one.
If the first quarter belonged to Jokic, the second belonged to Siakam. He scored a bucket early, and after Khem Birch found Chris Boucher open in the corner for three, Denver’s lead was down to one.
Pascal then showed off his own passing chops; with the Denver defense all shading his way, he found Anunoby once at the rim (OG couldn’t finish though), then found a cutting Banton, who finished with a beauty up-and-under.
Then Pascal took one himself, and finished over Aaron Gordon to give their Raptors their first lead. Then he found OG on the break to cap an 8-0 run, forcing Mike Malone to call timeout with the Raps up 40-37.
Following the timeout, Denver turned the ball over on two straight possessions, and the Raptors added five more to their run, two on a Pascal J and three more on a VanVleet deep bomb.
But Denver used a 10-2 run to take the lead back, one that included two Jeff Green and-1s. That guy has made a career out of scoring on the Raptors, it seems. A Siakam triple gave the Raptors the lead back, and they led 57-56 at the half.
Siakam finished the half with 19 points, 5 assists and 5 boards.
That second quarter also saw Birch score on two of his patented push shots — it’s nice to see that back in Toronto’s arsenal. Birch played a solid 18 minutes, his most his return from facial surgery.
You can always count on one Khem floater a game pic.twitter.com/ltPkZXaQqJ— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) February 13, 2022
The Raptors opened the third with five quick points from Fred VanVleet, and Siakam continued to have his way with Aaron Gordon whenever the Nuggets didn’t send multiple defenders.
But Jeff Green, now on his 11th team, just kept popping threes! I can’t believe we’ve been watching this guy kill us in 11 different uniforms over the past 15 years. And after a Gordon and-1 and a Green jam, the Nuggets took the lead back again. Green finished with 19 points and shot 3-for-5 from downtown.
VanVleet got one back on Green before the quarter ended, firing in a stepback three over Green that broke an 83-83 tie and gave the Raptors the lead heading into the fourth.
FVV dances and drills the three! @Raptors | #WeTheNorth pic.twitter.com/RXRyizUf26— NBA Canada (@NBACanada) February 13, 2022
VanVleet finished the game with 25/5/5, and six made three-pointers.
To the disappointment of many, new Raptor Thad Young didn’t make his debut, despite being available and healthy. Nick Nurse said pre-game that he “might” play, and considering that he hasn’t yet practiced with the team, and considering that the team as constructed is rolling, and it was a super-tight game… it makes sense. There’ll be more opportunities to integrate Young into the lineup in the coming week, I suspect. One could certainly argue that, even if he is unfamiliar with the system, Young might have been able to contribute more than Precious Achiuwa tonight — Achiuwa collected all of one rebound and one foul in his 10.5 minutes of play.
The Raptors are back in action on Valentine’s Day when they visit the New Orleans Pelicans.