10 things I saw from Raptors-Nuggets (Dec. 3)

  1. Thriller: The Raptors battled back after an sluggish start and finally took the lead in the last minute of the game. However, the Nuggets were essentially awarded the win by officials when a foul was called on a grab by Serge Ibaka on Nikola Jokic before the inbound with just seven seconds left. There was contact, but it was also the run of the mill type of grabbing that goes on in every close game.
  2. Unstoppable: Jokic put the Nuggets on his back. Not only did he nail three clutch free throws and a blind floater over Ibaka in the dying seconds, but he just bullied the Raptors in every aspect of the game. Jokic sprayed effortless crosscourt passes, he got guards open off curls, he was a beast on the offensive glass, and scored seemingly at will. Jokic was even a deterrent at the rim. He finished with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 15 assists on 13 shots.
  3. Bricks: Aside from Jokic, what doomed the Raptors was their inability to connect from deep. Toronto shot 11-of-41 as a team, and Danny Green missed a wide-open triple in a tie game off an offensive rebound that would have given the Raptors a two-point edge with 12 seconds left.
  4. Concern: Defensive rebounding is another reason why the Raptors lost their fifth game of the season. Denver grabbed 15 offensive rebounds and held an absurd 23–2 advantage in second chance points. Part of the issue is that Ibaka (5 rebounds) just isn’t able to hold his position, but it’s also on the wings for failing to help out.
  5. Clutch: Kawhi Leonard delivered for the Raptors down the stretch. He dribbled past Juancho Hernangomez for an 18-footer to give the Raptors a brief one-point lead with 55 seconds left, then beat Paul Millsap off the dribble for a baseline fadeaway that tied the game.
  6. Execution: On both possessions in the final minute, Leonard was able to attack off the catch and immediately make his move, which allowed him to get separation. That wasn’t the case when Leonard came up short against Boston and Detroit.
  7. Encouraging: The second unit was surprisingly good. Their execution wasn’t great, but the all-bench lineups played with energy and fearlessness in transition, which is how they succeeded last season. The bench essentially gave the starters a chance to win it in the fourth by cutting an 11-point deficit down to four points.
  8. Boost: Delon Wright stepped up for the bench in the fourth quarter run. Not only was he disruptive defensively, but he also got to the rim off the high screen and find open shooters with crosscourt passes, which is something Fred VanVleet has simply been unable to do.
  9. Switch: Wright should see more opportunities to run the point, even though it’s clear that Nick Nurse has more faith in VanVleet. After a key timeout in the fourth, it was VanVleet who stayed in the game whereas Wright was made to sit, and VanVleet promptly bricked a bailout three.
  10. Invisible: Kyle Lowry was phenomenal with his playmaking (11 assists), but it’s hard to overlook how he only came up with five points in the loss. Lowry just doesn’t get to the rim anymore, and his 3-point shot has been inconsistent since the first week of the season.