Nuggets extend home winning streak to six games and reach 20 wins nearly one month earlier than last season.
The Denver Nuggets (20-9) rallied to defeat the Toronto Raptors (23-9) 95-86. Jamal Murray was key down the stretch with 14 of his 19 points coming in the fourth quarter while Jokic led the way for the game with 26 points and 9 rebounds. Kawhi Leonard was dominant for the Raptors with a 29-point-14-rebound double-double.
Both teams were down several players in this one, so it’s hard to say this even resembled a possible Finals preview, but a season-sweep still means something. The Nuggets were missing Gary Harris, Will Barton, Paul Millsap, Isaiah Thomas, Michael Porter Jr., and Jared Vanderbilt. The Raptors had a list of key inactives of their own: Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, Pascal Siakam, and Norman Powell.
The Nuggets played with as much energy early on as they have shown in any game this season. The ball and bodies were flying all over the court. The energy led to some forced turnovers against the Raptors, but also contributed to some misses at the rim from trying to do too much.
Denver’s defense was just so good in the first quarter that some early misses didn’t really put them at a deficit. Plus, even with the offense missing some easy opportunities, the team chemistry created countless others that a variety of players were able to convert on.
The deep second unit when Jokic checked out was a huge problem. Toronto went on a 12-0 run from the point Jokic checked out, as the second unit lacked the same energy, or any shot making.
A Nuggets timeout and Mason Plumlee checking into the game sent the Nuggets back on a 10-0 run of their own. Capped by a Swaggy P three. Nikola Jokic continued to play well in the post. He even had one of his best drives of the season, a reverse layup coming out of a spin against Ibaka in the post.
The Nuggets shooting woes caught up with them to end the half as the Raptors answered with another double-digit run (11-0). Throughout the entire first half it was clear that both these teams were limping to hold their lead on the teams in their conference behind them. With both teams being known for their depth, the lack of bodies showed up in the runs that each team made with the opposing side unable to match certain lineups.
The Nuggets came out in the second half sluggish again and were unable to defend Kawhi Leonard. Although Torrey Craig continued to be the surprise of the week offensively, it wasn’t enough for Craig to be Denver’s only source of offense.
Jokic got a little angry coming out of the timeout after he thought he got fouled on a one handed reverse. Jokic’s aggression allowed him to start to chip away at the Toronto lead. The sequence of events even led to Jokic pulling Danny Green in on a screen to draw a foul and ultimately pick up a technical against Green. In all, the Nuggets put together a 9-2 run out of the timeout.
That effort was all erased following another Toronto timeout and subsequent run, this time 12-3. The Toronto run was accompanied by a series of frustrating calls for the Nuggets before a much-needed timeout to regroup and start another run of their own. The run would end up being 11-2 to close the quarter and cut the lead to four, although it could have even been better.
The two-point-guard lineup for the Nuggets to start the quarter extended the run as Toronto started to lose their legs. Murray and Morris would combine for seven quick fourth quarter points, including Jamal Murray finally getting his shot going.
Murray didn’t stop there. He powered Denver’s run to 23-2 almost single-handedly with his shooting stroke working in the fourth. Still, there were some nervous moments down the stretch as Denver looked to hold onto their lead.
With Toronto being in the bonus for the final five minutes of action they had some easy opportunities to keep it close, putting the pressure on the Nuggets to finish.
Jokic delivered what was essentially the final blow to the Raptors chances by backing down Serge Ibaka in the post and flexing on him in celebration after.
The Nuggets are certainly flexing their muscles as the West’s top seed right now. After sweeping the Raptors, holding another opponent under 100 points (including all six in the current home win streak), and coming back from multiple runs the Nuggets fit the part as one of the league’s best team. It’s worth constantly repeating: all of this is without three starters and without having seen Michael Porter Jr., Isaiah Thomas, and Jared Vanderbilt take the court.
On top of the big win for the Nuggets, the Lakers, Mavericks, and Pelicans all also lost today and since the Warriors didn’t play, the Nuggets currently hold sole possession of first place in the West by half a game.