The Denver Nuggets dropped a heartbreaker against the Toronto Raptors in overtime, 113-111. DeMar Derozan led the way for the Raptors with 30 points, while Emmanuel Mudiay had his best game of the season with 25 points and nine assists. The Nuggets truly had an opportunity here, but they screwed the pooch with key turnovers late, and time simply ran out on them in overtime.

Both teams started the game by going to their foreign centers for post up attempts, to no avail. The first score of the game came on a Kyle Lowry three pointer. The first Nuggets score came on a nice pick and roll between Emmanuel Mudiay and Jusuf Nurkic, with a nice pass from Mudiay and finish from Nurk. While Mudiay did have one bad turnover, he started the game very nicely with some pick and rolls, while Nurkic was great on the receiving end of some feeds with nice touch. He scored six on the Nuggets first 12 points in the game on short shots going directly to the hoop. The Nuggets did fall asleep a bit, giving up six straight points on turnovers and sloppy defense to fall behind 17-12.

The Raptors gave the Nuggets a lot of problems by putting Jameer Nelson in the pick and roll, and the Nuggets couldn’t hit their open shots at the other end. Danilo Gallinari in particular struggled mightily to begin the game. They got back on track a bit by attacking the paint, and it was evident that good Mudiay showed up in this contest, as he attacked the lane patiently and dumped off an easy shot to Nikola Jokic for two. Both teams went back and forth from that point with little success, and the score at the end of the quarter settled in at a 29-19 Raptors advantage.

Jokic and Jamal Murray started the second quarter with some buckets, but Jakob Poeltl proved to be a challenge when the Nuggets switched on the pick and roll. Nelson struggling in pick and roll coverage has become a bit of a theme. Chandler hit a three to bring the Nuggets up to 1/8 from that distance. After an offensive rebound on a Murray missed free throw, he hit another. Both teams went back and forth at a fast pace, and Jokic got in on the action by calling his number on a nice floater.

It was at this point that Jameer Nelson really struggled defensively. He couldn’t stay with the Toronto guards tonight, and on multiple instances, he either caused the score or the switch that created a score. The momentum changed noticeably though when Faried was challenged by DeRozan at the rim and came up with a huge block at the rim. Mudiay had another great finish at the rim.

It was at this point that Malone went to a Mudiay-Chandler-Gallinari-Faried-Nurkic lineup, and I was very happy with how it played. Chandler was the best defender the Nuggets could throw at DeRozan, and Mudiay was playing well enough to be the sole point guard on the floor. Chandler hit a three, Mudiay turned it over but contested a three on the other end incredibly well, Nurkic played big on both ends, and Faried ran a great fast break. I was incredibly impressed with this group on both ends, as they went plus-11 in the last 4:30 to give the Nuggets a 57-52 lead going into halftime.

The Nuggets began the third quarter forcing a contested mid range jumper by DeRozan, which he missed, then followed it up by going to Nurkic, once on the block and once in transition. Faried made an incredible block against Siakam as well. DeRozan came back down and hit a shot over Nelson, while the offense for Denver hit a bit of a lull. Nelson missed a couple of shots, Mudiay was forced to take a contested three pointer, and the Raptors took the momentum. While the Nuggets started scoring a bit more, Nelson was just abused by DeRozan.

Mudiay came back and did a nice job of orchestrating the offense for a stretch, but the game was clearly going to go back and forth with the current group on the floor. Both teams made their money at the free throw line, making a ton of trips to the line in the period. Nurkic went out, and the Nuggets interior defense started to struggle a bit. The game continued to see-saw with Lowry continuing to orchestrate for the Raptors.

Murray came back and had a nice runner in the lane, and followed it up with a steal and an attempted dunk. Good thing Chandler was there to clean it up. It was interesting to see Malone sub in Mudiay for Nelson and run a Mudiay-Murray backcourt to finish the quarter. Murray earned the opportunity. Mudiay had a great spin-layup toward the end of the period, and Gallo went to the line for his 12th and 13th (!!!) free throws to give the Nuggets an 82-77 advantage after three quarters.

The Nuggets began the final quarter a bit slow, but Murray had a nice bounce pass to Chandler on the break who finished with a slam. Jokic really struggled on both ends as well, and Malone made a quick substitution to Faried at center. Dwayne Casey responded with a move to Valanciunas.

Mudiay air-balled a three (at this point, Mudiay’s only misses were five shots beyond the arc), and Gee missed two free throws. Valanciunas earned an and-1 against Faried in the post. The offense bogged down, and Malone responded by subbing back in Gallo and Nelson. After some poor movement, Mudiay slashed into the lane and provided an emphatic, contact layup. He followed that up with a nice drop-off for his eighth assist.

Then, our fearless leader provided a chilling reminder of last game against Toronto:

After a couple of fouls by Nurkic, Malone decided to close the game with Mudiay-Nelson-Chandler-Gallo-Jokic. Mudiay made a nice midrange jumper on one end, but Nelson left Terrence Ross wide open for a three pointer. Both teams put the pressure on the paint, and it showed. The game went to 97-94 Raptors with 2:50 remaining before Mudiay made a couple of free throws. DeRozan made his presence felt though, as he got into the lane and helped the Raptors build a 100-98 lead. After the Nuggets (finally) collected a rebound, Malone called a timeout to draw up a play with 31 seconds remaining. Chandler missed the initial attempt but got the offensive rebound, hitting Nelson who canned his first shot of the game, a three pointer to put the Nuggets up 101-100.

At this point, Malone subbed in Alonzo Gee to cover Kyle Lowry, but Valanciunas made a great screen on Chandler to free DeRozan for a mid range jumper to put Toronto up by one. The Nuggets were able to get Chandler to the line with 12.5 seconds left, and he made one. The Raptors had an opportunity to win it at the buzzer, but the shot by DeRozan went in and out, so the game went into overtime.

The Raptors missed their first shot, and Mudiay came down the other end with a great dish to Jokic for a layup. The Raptors scored two free throws, and then the game slowed down. Chandler eventually put in a couple of free throws though, putting the Nuggets up two with 2:40 to go. Lowry eventually made one free throw to cut the slim margin in half, but after a timeout and some back and forth buckets, Terrence Ross cranked up a three over Nelson to lift the Raptors to a 110-108 lead. Mudiay then proceeded to throw the ball out of bounds on the next possession. Nelson then made a wonderful play defensively to draw a charge on Lowry, switching assignments with Jokic at the last moment. He then gave the ball right back to the Raptors by stepping out of bounds. The Raptors went up 112-108 with two Lowry free throws, and Mudiay brought some drama to the game by getting the Nuggets three free throws on a three quarter court heave.

Key Matchup: Jonas Valanciunas vs. Jusuf Nurkic

Nurkic came out and put the pressure on against Valanciunas and the Raptors in the pick and roll, simply rolling hard to the rim and getting some nice, easy baskets. He didn’t dominate the glass, but Nurk made more plays than Valanciunas, and he forced the Raptors to take some difficult shots on the other end. Valanciunas finished the game against Jokic, and he made the Nuggets pay on the offensive glass, though it wasn’t all on Jokic.

Spotlight: The backcourt advantage and the midrange area

Mudiay was able to mitigate some of the damage here, and Chandler playing the shooting guard position provided a lift for the Nuggets on both ends in this one. Nelson simply proved ineffective defending the Raptors guards, and it was clear a change needed to be made. Nelson did come back in though in the fourth quarter and performed much better, even hitting a key shot with 20 seconds left in regulation. He was the goat in this game though, performing incredibly poorly overall.

Closing thought: The finishing lineup

Kenneth Faried had a good game in my estimation, but Malone decided to finish the game with Gallo-Chandler-Jokic. This was the right call in my opinion, as Jokic’s verticality caused some misses on the defensive end by Toronto. Faried’s rebounding and defense were both pretty good in this one, but with Mudiay on the floor, I was glad to see the Nuggets prioritize spacing. Ideally, the closing lineup doesn’t involve Nelson regularly, and in the last few minutes he was really, really bad. I was hoping for a variation of the lineup with Chandler at shooting guard, but it didn’t happen that way.

I’m rooting for Faried, and I don’t think he deserved to come out of this one.