The Denver Nuggets fell 109-117 to the Toronto Raptors in their finale game before the postseason, continuing to play without the injured Will Barton and Gary Harris but missing Michael Porter Jr. (rest) as well. However, being shorthanded doesn’t excuse the loss to Raptors who were without Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka — three of their major players — as the Nuggets were unable to capitalize on their advantage in the starting lineup.
After trading leads for the majority of the first quarter, Denver eventually surrendered an 8-point lead to Toronto.
Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap, who combined to score 21 points in the first quarter, were trying to get Denver’s offense flowing. Murray knocked down three early threes while Millsap scored both inside and out but the rest of the team struggled. Even star center Nikola Jokic, who scored the team’s first basket of the game, fell completely silent after.
While the team’s defense effort wasn’t lacking, they were unable to bottle up rookie guard Terence Davis, who knocked down a pair of threes on his way to 10 total points.
In a battle of the benches, the Nuggets were able to go toe-to-toe with the Raptors in the second quarter as P.J. Dozier scored 8 points in the period and Toronto guards Matt Thomas and Norman Powell got the ball rolling for the Raptors. Toronto also turned the ball over six times, aiding in Denver’s ability to hold serve for the period with transition points although the Nuggets were down by as much as 16 in the second quarter.
At the end of the half, the Raptors led 50-58.
The third quarter saw yet another player step up for Denver, this time the crafty Mason Plumlee. Plumlee tallied 8 points and 3 rebounds in the third. Dozier, with four assists in the period, continued to show his steady hand and ability to run an offense. However, it wasn’t enough, as the Nuggets entered the fourth quarter down by 9 points and could never close the gap in the final quarter.
Dozier continued to impress, scoring 9 points in the final quarter and knocking down a pair of threes to end the game as the team’s leading scorer with 20 points. However, the team’s three-point defense continued to rear it’s ugly head, with Toronto able to knock down 6 shots from long-distance in the fourth quarter alone.
In the end, the Nuggets would give up 18 threes to the Raptors, who shot 51.4% from 3-point range and 50% from the field. This is going to have to continue be one of the team’s major focuses before the postseason begins.
Jokic needs to be aggressive: Although Jokic only played for the majority of one quarter, his 2 points on a single shot attempt is concerning. It’s clear that Nuggets head coach Michael Malone has been valuing rest for his star center, playing him just 27.0 minutes per game over the past two contests, but this is the fifth game that Joker has scored below his season average (which just fell to 19.5 points per game). Denver has lost each of those contests.
Murray finally finds his stroke. After shooting just 4-17 from 3-point range in the bubble, Murray went 3-3 from the 3-point range against Toronto. Of course, with Murray shooting just 34.0% from long-distance this season, his shooting percentage in the bubble (35.0) is par for the course. As you might expect, Murray’s success for 3 is important for the team’s chances of winning, as the Blue Arrow has shot 38.8% from 3 in the team’s wins this season but 25.0% from three in their losses.
Dozier continues to impress. Dozier finished Friday’s game with 20 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds and 2 steals while shooting 5-6 from 3-point range and 6-9 from the field. Now, Dozier isn’t the next coming of Klay Thompson as a shooter but with at least Harris out for an indefinite period of time, he can play significant minutes for the Nuggets. Basically, he can replace Torrey Craig while Craig starts in place of Harris. With his size, defense and ability to run an offense, he should make it worthwhile for Denver.