Nikola Jokic had 23 points, 15 assists, and 11 rebounds to lead the Denver Nuggets to a 106-103 lead over the Toronto Raptors on Monday night.

Kawhi Leonard had 27 points for Toronto, but the Raptors went 11-41 on their 3-point attempts, and they weren’t able to rally against the Nuggets.

While the win is great, the Nuggets did lose Gary Harris to a hip injury, with the guard leaving the game in the second quarter after landing awkwardly following a layup that he was fouled on in the second quarter.

Juancho scored the first five points for the Nuggets, but got a little happy and bricked his next shot attempt off the backboard. The Raptors went to Pascal Siakam for a couple layups, with the Cameroon native spinning into the paint for layups. Jamal knocked in a triple off a pass from Jokic, and the pace was up and down, with the Nuggets jumping out to a one-possession lead at the first timeout.

After a sloppy turnover by Murray, Coach Malone subbed him out for Monte Morris. Kyle Lowry got some home cooking, slapping Juancho across the arms to force another turnover, causing Malone to call timeout again. They went to Gary Harris when play resumed, but his miss wound up in Millsap’s hands, and he got to the free throw line. The Plumkic lineup was deployed, and they carved up the Raptors for a couple back-cuts that resulted in easy layups to reclaim the lead. They finished the quarter up, with the two teams scuffling to a close of the quarter.

Morris started the second with one of his patented floaters, followed by a Beasley jam off a turnover. Lyles got eaten up by a Valanciunas screen, freeing up CJ Miles for a midrange jumper, his second basket of the quarter. The bench stopped moving the ball around, and the combination of some truly horrendous play from Lyles helped launch a run for the Raptors. After a timeout, the Nuggets got some truly bad news …

Jokic checked back in for the Nuggets, relieving Lyles, and the offense took a step forward. Jokic slinged an amazing pass to Jamal Murray for a triple, and Beasley followed that with a triple of his own. Jokic tipped in an offense rebound, and then Beasley hit another three to give Denver a five point lead. Another Jokic basket, and Nick Nurse had to call timeout to organize his troops.

While there was a break in the action, that didn’t cool off Jokic at all, with the future All-Star getting the ball through the hoop with ease. Torrey Craig was able to cash in on a triple, getting an assist from his headband brother Paul Millsap. The Nuggets caught a break when Kawhi Leonard fell down, igniting a fastbreak that ended with a Murray one-hand flush.

Craig started the second half for Harris, but Murray started off the scoring for Denver, with a midrange J after a nice spin move to free himself from Danny Green. Lowry knocked in the Raptors second triple of the quarter, but Hernangomez answered with one of his own. Millsap and Jokic ran a nice 4-5 pick and roll, resulting in a Jokic layup in his own unique style.

Jokic picked up his FOURTEENTH dime on the evening with a nice lob to Plumlee for a reverse dunk, kicking the lead back up to eight points. Both teams spent the middle of the quarter scrapping with each other, with Toronto upping their physicality on defense to try to knock Denver off track. Lyles continued to struggle, a real minus for the team tonight. The rest of the reserves played great, with tremendous effort on defense, and while they lost the quarter, they entered the fourth quarter with the lead.

Lyles knocked in his first basket in the beginning of the quarter, stroking a triple from the right wing, but it was answered by OG Anunoby on the other end. The Raptors cut the lead to one, but then a Valanciunas foul on a Morris triple with a Coach Nurse technical, and the Nuggets were able to push the lead back to four. Murray checked in the game, and settled the crowd down with a midrange jumper.

With the score tied at 94 with 4:30 to go, Juancho knocked in a huge 3-pointer, and Jokic grabbed the rebound on the other end. After Murray slipped on a drive, Green tied it up with a corner 3 that the Nuggets defense couldn’t rotate over to contain. Leonard forced a turnover against Jokic on the other end, but Jokic forced a turnover by Leonard. Both teams missed a few shots, but the Raptors took the lead with 55 seconds left after a basket by Kawhi.

Murray and Jokic were able to connect in the pick and roll, with the big guy dropping in a floater to put Denver up by one point with 40 seconds remaining. The Raptors had a few chances after the timeout, but the ball wound up in Juancho’s hands, and he knocked in one of two free throws to put Denver up by two points with 12 seconds remaining. Leonard got the ball after the timeout, driving into the paint past Millsap, and canned his jumper to tie the game at 103. Ibaka made a terrible decision, fouling before the inbounds, and then Leonard fouled Jokic, who made all three free throws to give Denver the lead. Lowry missed a triple, and the team with the best record in the Western Conference defeated the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Three things I noticed

The defense is legit. The Nuggets were thin tonight after the Harris injury, but Torrey Craig stepped up and helped the team do just enough to secure the win. Jokic gave great effort – not for the entire time he was out there, but enough – and the bench really locked down on the Raptors. They followed a Malone script to a win – defend, defend, get Jokic the ball, and execute on offense.

Jokic is an All-Star this year. He was great tonight, on both ends. When he wasn’t rocketing passes to the corner, he was scrapping on the boards, setting good screens, and forcing turnovers. He had a special game tonight, the triple-double notwithstanding. He was the best player on the floor, and Kawhi Leonard was active tonight.

Nuggets need Will Barton back. It’s looked like Harris has been playing at 80 percent for a while now, but it looks like he’s been toughing things out because the team needs him. If Barton can get right soon, the Nuggets will be able to spell Harris (and Murray to an extent) with the addition of one of their best players. Harris might miss some time (or he might not) but the Nuggets need one of their closers back. They definitely could have used him tonight, even with the team doing enough to win. When Barton is available and on the court, this team is better.

Next Game

December 5, against the Orlando Magic at 5:00 PM MT.