Denver was able to hang with the best team in the East through three quarters, trailing by one point heading into the fourth quarter, but halfway through the final period the momentum had swung completely in Toronto's favor and they never looked back as the Raptors defeated the Denver Nuggets 116-102.
Lou Williams burned the Nuggets in the last meeting with 26 points in OT. Tonight he only needed regulation time to chalk up 31 points. Kyle Lowry added 30 points of his own as the two guards ran circles around the Denver defense off pick and rolls. J.J. Hickson and Timofey Mozgov were not effective when switching onto guards and Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson can only do so much when they switch onto much larger post players. Toronto occasionally shot themselves into cold stretches, but their slashing and screening offensive scheme never wavered and they consistently found offensive success each quarter.
Denver's best player tonight was Kenneth Faried, who has been on a tear recently. He had his third double-double in a row tonight, scoring 17 points with 19 rebounds. He was hustling all over the court and attacking the basket with confidence. Wilson Chandler also added 20 points and 10 rebounds. Ty Lawson only managed 7 assists but racked up 28 points. Nate Robinson played well off the bench, adding nine points on 4-6 shooting.
The difference in this game was the bench. Denver came into the season boasting it's depth and after injuries have accumulated, it is now a serious weakness. Jusef Nurkic cannot help but foul nearly once per minute, Hickson is a defensive sieve, and Darrell Arthur was ineffective offensively. The energy on the floor vanished when Faried hit the pine. His +/- was in positive double digits, but Coach Shaw decided to go with a small lineup late in the game consisting of Lawson - Robinson - Afflalo - Chandler - Faried, which lead to a Raptors run that sealed the victory.
Toronto is a better team and Denver's effort was admirable. In a brutal Western Conference I cannot envision the Nuggets making a run for a playoff spot, but if Faried can continue in this manner the rest of the way like he did in the final months of last season it would be considered a victory at this point. Denver is good enough to steal games from better competition, but a consistent ability to close out games is currently lacking. The attacking offense in tonight's first three quarters was not present in the fourth. Overall improvement in output from Chandler, Lawson and Faried is great but they need to step up in crunch time if they are to become the core to build on for the future.