Five thoughts on the Toronto Raptors dropping a stinker in Denver against the Nuggets:
The Raptors were back at full strength for the first time since game 2
Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka both returned from injury, and with Lucas Noguiera healthy as well, the Raptors had their full roster available. Jonas was rusty, and mostly invisible; Ibaka, naturally, came out gunning, and airballed his first three. It was on the defensive, end, though, that Ibaka was exposed—a common theme for the Raptors on this night. Ibaka allowed Paul Millsap to score 11 straight points and picked up a foul on a MIllsap three pointer (he gave him a four-point play in the 2nd quarter as well) within the first five minutes. The Nuggets hit their first 7 shots and jumped out to a 20-10 lead—and that led to the quick hook for JV and Serge; Pascal Siakam and Nogueira came in at the the 6:17 mark. It didn’t help, as the Nuggets extended the lead to 34-19 by the end of the quarter.
This Nuggets team is an odd mix, but they can score
The Nuggets don’t start a traditional point guard (heck, they don’t even really have one on the roster) or a traditional centre (and I’m not sure what position Nikola Jokic even is) but it’s a group that works extremely well together on offense. They’re very aggressive and they move the ball extremely well—not just in the amount of passes they make, but the ball really pops when they pass it, and they cut with purpose after making passes (as Jack Armstrong pointed out on the broadcast, the Raptors have seemed oddly vulnerable on give-and-go cuts this season, and the Nuggets exposed them. Which is stunning, since that’s a basic basketball play teach you in the third grade). Beyond that they get out on the break and aren’t afraid to bomb threes. Jamal Murray and Gary Harris may not be a traditional backcourt, but they can score.
The Raptors three-point shooting continues to be a major problem.
It’s not just the misses, it’s also the unwillingness to take them—and/or, the knowledge that they can’t make them. Case in point, in the second quarter, Kyle Lowry broke down his man on the right side of the floor; Nogueira flashed into the paint as the defense shifted and Lowry found him. As the defense rotated, Bebe turned and found DeMar DeRozan in the left corner wide open. (Bebe is a great passer; often, too willing a passer, but he sees the floor well.) But that’s not DeRozan’s shot. Instead, he drove… right into the defense… and settled for a midrange J that missed. At this point, the Raptors just aren’t threatening from deep, and teams will give the Raptors the three-point line until they prove they’re dangerous from out there. And we all know, that three-point shooting is the way the league is going; if you can’t shoot it, you won’t be able to keep up. Look no further to the Raptors’ two playoff exits vs. the Cavaliers the past two seasons to see what I mean. They finished 11-31 but most of those makes came in garbage time.
There are always nights like this…
Every team has them; some nights, nothing works, you fall behind early, and it just gets ugly from there. (I suspect a lot of teams have them in the altitude in Denver.) I don’t read too much into it, especially this early in the season; as long as there’s not a “hangover effect” in Utah on Friday night, as long as the errors we saw don’t turn into habits, then there’s nothing to panic about. (Well, except maybe the shooting.)
…so, you try to look for the bright spots.
Norman Powell had his second “just OK” offensive game in a row, which is a big step up after the five “oh God Norm what are you doing” games in a row he had. He finished 6-11 with three dunks, and led all starters with 14 points; of course, 4 of his 5 misses were 3-pointers. He also finished -26, a rarity for Norm. Alfonso McKinnie saw his first action of the season, and made the most of his garbage time minutes—he didn’t miss a shot. OG Anunoby had a couple lovely drives to the hoop, but needs to learn to finish strong. Delon Wright finally saw a couple threes drop… yep, that’s about all I’ve got.
Let’s see how the Raptors fare in their final game of the road trip in Utah!