Denver Nuggets hand Toronto Raptors first defeat in nine games
Nikola Jokic contributed a triple-double as the Denver Nuggets ended the Toronto Raptors’ eight-game winning streak on Monday.
Jokic piled up 23 points, three of them coming on key free throws in the closing minutes. He also added 15 assists and 11 rebounds in a 106-103 road victory at Scotiabank Arena.
He made a free throw with seven seconds remaining to break a 103-103 tie and made two more with 5.6 seconds left for the final margin. Extending Denver’s winning streak to six games.
Jamal Murray added 21 points for the Nuggets, and Juan Hernangomez and Malik Beasley had 15 each.
Leonard was stellar again on Monday, leading the Raptors with 27 points and nailing what should have been the game-winner with seven seconds remaining in a weird, wild finish at Scotiabank Arena.
Serge Ibaka added 15 points. But their rally from a deficit of as many as 12 points fell short.
Head coach of the Nuggets Michael Malone said: “To gut this win out tonight. I am so proud of our guys for that. That’s a helluva win for us. That’s a great team over there.”
On a night where Canadian breakout guard Jamal Murray entered the building with the spotlight on him, the Nuggets’ biggest star was undoubtedly center Nikola Jokic. The 23-year-old seven-footer’s unorthodox game and stellar play-making out of the center spot was on full display.
Jokic fueled a Nuggets surge toward the end of the second quarter. His passing and quick-fire decision-making infectious as Denver zipped the ball around and caught the Raptors off-guard. Taking a 12-point lead into halftime.
“I was kind of hoping we’d be able to disrupt [Jokic] with a little bit more pressure,” Nurse said after the game. “He just seemed to handle it. We worked hard on him, we tried to put him under some duress with the ball. But it just didn’t faze him.”
Leonard couldn’t be stopped, scoring 16 in the first half. The same couldn’t be said of his teammates. Kyle Lowry, for example, was scoreless in the opening half and finished the game with just five points on 1-of-7 shooting — but did manage 11 assists.
Serge Ibaka made some key baskets in the second half, and Pascal Siakam chipped in with 14 points, but secondary scoring was hard to come by for the Raps. A 26 per cent three-point shooting night for Toronto didn’t help its cause, either.
Raptors got back into the game from a 12-point deficit. A fade-away shot by Leonard tied the game with 7.1 seconds on the clock. But then Ibaka was whistled for a foul on the Nuggets’ in-bound play.
“I’m going to have to look at [the video],” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse, who earlier in the day was named Eastern Conference coach of the month. “I asked [the official], he said he had to call it. I don’t know, guys coming off a screen, I’ve got to look at it, I haven’t seen it yet.”
The Raptors were riding an eight-game win streak that included a recent overtime victory over Golden State. However, the Raps were hosting a not-too-shabby Denver team that has been climbing the Western Conference standings. They arrived in Toronto tied with the Los Angeles Clippers for first in the West.
Denver was definitely the better team on the night. Particularly in the first half. In which the Raptors were a woeful combined 3-for-22 from three-point range. The Nuggets led 86-78 with one quarter to play.
But on the Nuggets’ next possession, Valanciunas was whistled for fouling on a three-point play. Nurse was irate, and picked up a technical. That put Denver back up by four, and prompted the outraged crowd to chant “Ref you suck!”
Then trailing by a point with two minutes to play, Leonard air-balled a three-point attempt. However made up for it with a long jumper — and a double fist pump in celebration — on the Raptors’ next trip down the floor to give the Raptors a brief lead.
A missed free throw by Juancho Hernangomez with 12 seconds left gave Toronto one last gasp, setting up Leonard’s game-tying basket. But the final three free throws, and a Lowry three-point shot that clanged off the rim at the buzzer, instantly sucked the energy out of the building.