Photo: David Zalubowski – The Associated Press
The Denver Nuggets fell to the Toronto Raptors Tuesday night in Toronto 114-110. It marked another game that the Nuggets faithful may not have expected win going in, but nonetheless felt like the Nuggets should have stole based on how they played at points throughout the game. Nikola Jokic led the way for Denver with a near triple-double, 29 points, 16 rebounds, and 8 assists. Paul Millsap added another efficient 20 point performance. Meanwhile, it wasn’t so much Toronto’s dynamic duo that led the charge, but what is becoming their dynamic contribution from their bench performers VanVleet and Poeltl in a balanced effort.
The Nuggets came out strong, especially defensively, as they have made a trend of in recent third quarters on their road trip. However, this game still looked different, in a positive way, because there seemed to be a certain sense of desperation that was being used to positively fuel the team on offense, even on a back-to-back at the tail end of a road trip.
In the second quarter you could truly see the intensity that the Nuggets brought to the contest highlighted by a Jokic fist pump after a Jamal Murray and-one. Though the game was back and forth throughout, the Nuggets showed a real surge at the end of the third quarter. A Jokic lob to Plumlee, followed by a Devin Harris fall-away shot gave Denver a three point lead that they maintained to close the quarter by putting together a strong defensive possession.
The concern for the Nuggets was that the Raptors started to pull away at the five minute mark of the fourth quarter as Devin Harris was called for yet another foul while contesting a three point shooter, something that has been hurting the Nuggets of late. It seemed to be capped off by a Jacob Poeltl throw-dunk over Paul Millsap with under three minutes to go.
An almost miraculous finish, featuring a Nikola Jokic banked three coming off a screen (what?!) showed just how bad Denver knew they needed and wanted this game. Nonetheless, the Raptors rode the lead home as the Nuggets left Canada in despair after what looked to be a promising start that could have brought playoff hope back to the fan base.
On a positive note, from a box score contribution, there’s not much more you could have asked from the team unless you really get picky, which playoff teams have to do. However, it just seems like this, and other games recently, may have turned out differently with Gary Harris available to play. In the end if that is what derails the Nuggets playoff hopes it will be frustrating, but I think fans of the team can see that they have put their best forward and will continue to for the rest of the season as they still mathematically live on in the Western Conference.
The Nuggets take on the Thunder in the final game of the road trip (finally). The schedule becomes mostly Western Conference teams from here on out and it would be huge for the Nuggets to close the road trip on a positive note and get ready to make one final push.