Game Notes: Nuggets at Raptors
Raps T.O.’d in excruciating loss.
by Tariq Sbiet / @Tsbiet
The Raptors have been pummelled in the last two home games at the Air Canada Centre, losing badly to the Oklahoma City Thunder 115-89 and most recent, the 113-87 mangling at the hands of the Utah Jazz. Toronto had to wake up from their slump and give the city something to cheer about. Lately, it has been discouraging for fans due to Triano’s boys coming out with no energy or as Bosh would put it, “desire.”
Denver came in to the ACC with a three-game losing skid, no head coach and no Kenyon Martin for the 12th straight game (patella tendinitis). Although this Western powerhouse recently lost to Milwaukee and the ever-struggling Knicks, Denver still remains a threat to any team in the league. This game against the Raptors was a testament to their perseverance.
Jay Triano tweaked the starters once again, bringing DeRozan off the bench. DeMar dropped 15 points on 7-8 shooting.
Antoine Wright fired up an air ball for the first shot of the game, a microcosm of the first quarter as Toronto shot a measly 37.5 per cent from the field.
If CB4 decides to depart this summer, there is a bright spot for Toronto and it comes in the form of a young and developing group featuring DeMar DeRozan, (20) Sonny Weems (22) and Amir Johnson (21)
All three players have great athleticism and are already contributing to their team in a positive way. The trio combined for 35 points and 19 rebounds in this game.
You can’t leave a scoring machine like Melo open for shots; he was shown no resistance in the first quarter, smiling after hitting a pull up jumper against a helpless Bargnani on the perimeter.
Anthony led the Nuggets with eight points in the quarter.
The Nugget’s big boys were sharing the ball nicely down low; Nene had five assists by the end of the first 12 minutes of play.
DeMar was displaying his athleticism with several aggressive plays attacking the basket.
The Raps held it down in the first quarter considering they were out rebounded 16-9 and came out cold with a poor shooting performance.
This quarter opened up with a familiar sight for Toronto as former Raptor Joey Graham glided through the lane for an uncontested jam.
DeMar DeRozan continued his aggressiveness taking the ball hard to the hoop, an aspect of his game that should be magnified.
JR Smith came off the bench to do his thing, providing some good and some bad for the Nuggets, a typical attribute Smith provides for his team. But Smith was very solid on this night chipping in with 16 points off the bench along with four rebounds and three helpers.
Toronto managed to string together a couple of defensive stops to get back in the game at the seven minute mark, 34-33 for Denver.
Marco Bellinelli who hasn’t seen much action lately, was subbed in and made good use of his minutes. Belli, as they refer to him in the change room, quietly collected 11 points off the pine.
Unlike the sluggish Raptor team that came out in the last couple home games, there was actually some effort and energy being shown as they got after it on the boards, not waiting for the ball to come to them.
Carmelo Anthony was taking full advantage of his mismatch against Il Mago, with a couple of crossovers and a hesitation move to get all the way to the hoop.
JR sunk a tough three in the final seconds of the third to extend the Denver lead to six. But the Weems-DeRozan tandem answered off of a Bargnani miss, both soaring in the air for the tip to beat the buzzer.
DeRozan then playfully teased Weems signaling that the 2 points should be credited to him.
DeMar led the way for his squad with 13 (6-7) in the half. Meanwhile, Smith and Anthony posted 13 and 12 to lead the Nuggets.
This tip ended the half with a four point advantage for Denver: 56-52
The Raptors did shoot a higher percentage in the quarter (46.8) but the problem was Denver shot 55.6 per cent!
Sonny Weems was impacting the game on both ends of the floor with his scoring and solid defense which led to fast break opportunities.
Toronto was very effective in the open court outscoring the Nuggets 33-22 in transition.
Antoine Wright scored four consecutive points to tie it up at 62.
CB4 woke up the ACC with back-to-back monstrous dunks, looks like we have a game on our hands after all.
The recipe of Weems, Wright and/or DeRozan was a productive one, with these wingmen playing the passing lanes beautifully and leading the break.
That spot up jumper is looking real smooth for Sonny as he hit another to extend a Raptor lead to eight points.
Shortly after, a second consecutive weak call by the referee frustrated Bargnani, which led him to pound the ball on the floor and receive a technical foul.
I spoke to soon about that Trio…Antoine Wright seemed to have fallen on his ankle after a missed three point shot with two minutes remaining in the quarter. I caught up with him after the game to get the update.
“I think it was a fan. When I stepped back and planted to take off end run, I turned it,” said Wright. “It hurts…not as bad as this loss, but I’ll be alright.”
Bargnani hit a huge three to extend the lead to nine. One possession later, Jack dove head first into the front row in attempt to save the ball and pick up an extra possession.
This was the effort and hustle the Raps have been lacking lately, and the loyal Torontonians have been starving for.
Raps get a comfortable lead to end the third, 81-72
After a poor third quarter by the Nuggets, this was Toronto’s chance to either pull away, which they have not been able to do all year, or shrink the lead and make it interesting, something that seems to come natural to this unit.
DeMar DeRozan forced Denver into a timeout after attacking once again in transition.
With the game at a standstill 87-81 for several minutes, Nene split his free throws to end the drought.
But Toronto fans were beginning to feel a little déjà vu with the visitors slowly chipping away at the lead, 87-84 in the final five minutes.
The x-factor in this game for the Raps was Sonny Weems who fittingly knocked down yet another jumper to maintain some confidence down the stretch.
After having a quiet second half, Carmelo hits a tough shot right in Weems’ grill to make things interesting, 92-90 with two minutes of play.
On the next possession for Denver, Melo knocks down another jumper to tie it up. What a luxury it is to have not one, but two great closers on a team to secure victories.
“That’s the thing man, Billups is a big shooter and Melo’ is a big shooter. After the moment when Bargnani scored the three-pointer, Billups responded so we got confidence… after that we just stayed in the play and God blessed us,” an exhausted Nene explained.
As mentioned, instead of securing the Raptors lead, (which was 10 at one point in the fourth quarter) teams usually find a way to get back in it against T.O.
With a nervous ACC on their feet, Andrea Bargnani regains the lead for Toronto hitting a tough shot in the air, plus the foul! It’s 95-92 Raps.
Following Carmelo’s two missed free throws, Bosh manages to cough up a rebound which goes out of bounds. This was a huge miscue considering Big shot Billups was in the house.
Chauncey hits a tough triple after an abysmal shooting night, to knot up the game at 95 and silence the crowd.
“I couldn’t buy a basket all night but if I get the opportunity I’m not going to be scared to miss that shot. My teammates have enough confidence in me to take those shots,” said Billups.
Nene then gets charged with a cheap foul against Bosh, and the Raptors get a break. CB4 splits his free throws and regains the lead, 96-95 with 16 seconds on the clock.
After several chances at clearing Denver’s missed shots, Chauncey Billups found Carmelo open on the elbow and he knew what to do with it. Anthony hits an elbow jumper to absolutely stun everybody in attendance and extend Toronto’s home losing streak to three.
Billups explains the sequence that led to Anthony’s late game heroics.
“Two guys were coming to me, so I was going to have to take a fade away, crazy shot. Then I saw Carmelo flash, so my first instinct was to get the ball over to him and a great player made a great shot.”
Antoine Wright wasn’t surprised when Carmelo hit the buzzer-beater.
“When the ball was being taken out of bounds and we were up one, I was walking out with Melo and I was like ‘here we go again’ and he was like ‘yup, here we go again.’ The man hits shots, there’s not much you can do about that,” explained Wright.
“It’s the NBA, things like this happen but our guys played great and gave us a chance to win”
There are only 11 games left on the schedule for the Raptors and still hold that eighth and final Playoff spot.
Each game will be big from here on out for the dinos and if they’d like to participate in the postseason they will have to come out with the same energy.
Although they didn’t get the W, they played a solid game and out-rebounded the nuggets 58-38.
With this victory, Denver creates a little separation from Dallas who is now a half game back from second place and the Nuggets.