The Toronto Raptors ran into a very formidable opponent this Sunday in the Denver Nuggets. Dwane Casey felt the need to shake things up by removing Amir Johnson from the starting lineup and it seemed to be the right move with the Raptors jumping to a 15-point lead early in the game. In typical Raptors fashion, the team relinquished their lead to a very physical Nuggets team eventually losing 112-98. Unlike other games this season, Toronto looked like a semi-cohesive unit this afternoon. The Raptors kept the game competitive for the most part, hanging in there with the 6th seeded Western conference squad. Rudy Gay led the way in scoring with 23 points on 23 shots. He’s essentially the epitome of efficiency, all sarcasm aside his shot selection was a lot better this game.
The Raptors shot 40% this game and put up 98 points, which doesn’t come as a surprise based on who their opponent was. The Raptors first quarter was a thing of beauty to watch as the team opened up making 7 out of their first 9 attempts from the field. After that point the team went 6/26 allowing the Nuggets to get themselves back into the game eventually taking a two-point lead heading into the half. DeMar DeRozan didn’t have his best game, scoring 17 points, but I love the confidence he’s bringing with him game to game. The 3-pointer from the left elbow is really becoming one of his sweet spots. This was yet another game where Toronto’s dynamic wing tandem of Gay and DeRozan wasn’t very effective as the two combined to shoot 41% from the field. Toronto’s bench was abysmal, they couldn’t get much going, and were completely outplayed by the Nuggets reserves getting outscored by 56 points.
The guard play of Andre Miller and Nate Robinson really provided problems in transition for the Raptors. Overall the Nuggets are a very quick team, and used their athleticism (this doesn’t include Miller) at all positions to their advantage. The transition game absolutely killed the Raptors. Missed matchups resulted in transition three-pointers which took the life out of the Raptors and the Air Canada Centre. This was by no means going to be a matchup where the team with the best defence was going to triumph, for it was truly a matchup of offensive firepower. The Raptors allowed Denver to shoot 50% from the field. It’s definitely a problem anytime a team shoots over 45%, let alone the high-tempo offense like the Nuggets.
The Raptors effort on the glass is essentially what kept them in the game today. When you only shoot 40%, there are going to be a lot of opportunities for offensive rebounds. The Raptors didn’t win the battle of the boards as the Nuggets had the bodies to match the Raptors physicality. Jonas Valanciunas had 8 rebounds after the first quarter, and finished with a double-double of 18points and 11rebs. His relentless effort on the glass early on really helped to establish a tone for the game.
Game Ball: Timofey Mozgov
Game ball this time around goes to the most unlikely of candidates; Nugget’s big man, Timofey Mozgov. It could’ve very likely gone to his teammate Nate Robinson for his huge bench contributions. However the 7’1 285 lbs centre came in and provided a much-needed spark for his team. His size and physicality was the perfect counter for Jonas Valanciunas. After getting posterized last year in Toronto, Mozgov got his redemption with a huge game finshing this contest with 16points and 14 rebounds. Mozgov ran the floor surprisingly well, finished strong around the basket, and got many 2nd and 3rd chance opportunites for his team. He also provided his team with rim protection which forced the Raptors to the perimeter. He had a pretty big dunk in the first and came up with a few huge blocks on Rudy Gay over the course of the game.
Other things of note:
Toronto’s Pick and roll coverage on defence is still very suspect.
Teams are still biting on Valanciunas’ pump fake, and I don’t know why.
There was a moment where the Raptors worked their screens well to create a mismatch for Jonas Valanciunas in the post. He then scored on a strong move towards the basket. They should really do this more.
This team’s shot selection is atrocious, it hurts my soul.