The Nuggets got off to an amazingly slow start against the Toronto Raptors, falling behind by 15 in the first quarter with the starters in for both sides, and you had to wonder if it wouldn’t be a long day for the Nuggets, who looked a step slow, and tired in their shots and rotations. Toronto switched up their usual starters to get off to that hot start, inserting Tyler Hansbrough for Amir Johnson, and were giving the Nuggets fits. And then…
Brian Shaw has spent a lot of time early this season singing the praises of his team’s depth, and although the bench has been impressive as the Nuggets have picked up the pace over the season, today was the first time the bench has clearly been the game-saver. I’ll cover the starters more in a second, but the bench is the story of the day.
The Denver Nuggets bench had four players in double figures (with Andre Miller only a point shy of joining them at nine), with Nate Robinson leading all Nuggets scorers with 23 points, Jordan Hamilton had 10, Darrell Arthur added 14 (on a ridiculously efficient 7 of 7 from the floor. Arthur may have been one of the sneakiest trades of the off-season), and Timofey Mozgov… oh, hello Mozzie. I’ve been a Mozzie detractor at times, and I still remain firmly convinced that he has two sets of hands in a case somewhere, one set made of stone and butter, and the others the set he used today. Mozgov was all over the floor, and gave a couple of solid Raptors bigs fits all night. He had rim-rattling jams, both in transition and in tough traffic under the basket. His passing was solid. He gathered rebounds with intensity. With 16 points and a career-high 15 boards, Mozzie was the star of the game and deserves some credit. Now… I hope he loses those stone-and-butter hands on the flight to New York, and this is the guy we see game after game, but history says we’ll see some fluctuation there. In total, the bench contributed 72 of the Nuggets 112 points today.
Of the Nuggets starters, only Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried acquitted themselves in the scoring column with 16 and 12 points respectively (although I’d argue that the Nuggets best rotations of the night came when Wilson Chandler came back into the game to shut down either Rudy Gay or DeMar DeRozan. Look for Ill Will to repeatedly fill that Iggy role from last season). J.J. Hickson and Randy Foye combined for 7 points in total, and were -10 and -15 respectively in plus/minus. What has to excite you about that (if there’s anything to be excited about) is that Shaw readily recognized the deficiencies, and neither player saw much time in the second half.
The Raptors had no answer for such depth, and once the Nuggets started forcing their hot shooters to pass the ball away, the Nuggets held the Raptors to a 14 point 2nd quarter. While the Raptors have some amazing players, at times it was like watching 4 or 5 versions of Carmelo Anthony on the floor, whoever caught the first pass was going to isolate, eat the clock, and then put up their own shot. I’d seen statistically that the Raptors are dead last in the league in assists, but it’s striking to actually watch. These guys don’t care to share, and you have to wonder what that will do to their cohesiveness over the course of the season as they face their struggles. The Toronto fans seemed to agree with that opinion of their product as huge swaths of open seats were visible in every camera shot.
Speaking of cohesiveness, one of the great carryovers to see from last season is watching whoever is sitting on the bench for the Nuggets cheering on the guys on the floor. Watching the aforementioned strugglers Randy Foye and Darrell Arthur specifically cheer Nate Robinson and Darrell Arthur’s excellent performances gives you hope that the Nuggets can turn this into a nice season if they can keep those egos in check. It’s already hard to see a couple of guys losing out on playing time (hello, Evan Fournier), and Shaw will have a challenge on his hands when JaVale McGee and Danilo Gallinari make their way back from injury in the near future.
All in all, a nice victory for your Denver Nuggets, stretching a winning streak to 6 games, and starting a road trip off right. What were your biggest positives and negatives today, Nuggets Nation?