The Toronto Raptors, having tried and failed to win their last two games by desperate fourth-quarter comebacks, played yesterday’s game the other way. The Raps took an early lead against the Denver Nuggets, stretching to 15 late in Q1, highlighted by fine shooting from DeMar DeRozan. However, Denver coach Brian Shaw had at his disposal something his Toronto counterpart Dwane Casey did not – bench players with a pulse. Led by Russian giant Timofey Mozgov and smurf Nate Robinson, the Nuggets’ second unit wiped out the Raps’ lead by halftime. Late in the fourth quarter, with the Raps needing a stop after a Kyle Lowry floater closed the gap to five points, the Nuggets didn’t accommodate. Robinson drained a pair of 3-balls, and the fans headed for the exits.
The story of this game was how badly the Denver second unit mauled Toronto’s. A margin of 72-16 looks like a misprint. What that obscures is some positive signs displayed by the Raps’ starters, in particular Jonas Valanciunas. I suggested in my preview that JV could shoot over, or back down, his smaller Denver counterpart, J.J. Hickson. JV did just that, scoring 18 points and grabbing 11 boards. Mozgov ended up playing almost twice as many minutes as the starter, Hickson, and was a force all game. He neutralized JV, pulled down 15 rebounds, many for putback buckets, and was plus-26. JV was the only Rap in positive territory, at plus-5. Rudy Gay was solid for the Raps, leading the home scoring with 23 points. DD couldn’t maintain his early pace, and settled for 17. Getting the ball from Rudy more often might have helped.
The battle of the point guards was a microcosm of the one-sidedness of bench vs. bench. While Lowry had 17 points and 7 assists, hardly a bad performance, he did get charged with 5 turnovers. His counterpart, Denver’s other tiny guard, Ty Lawson, was a study in patience and picking your spots. His stats mirror Lowry’s almost exactly. The backups were a different story. Veteran Andre Miller had 9 points, 7 big assists, and was plus-23. He also had a zero where his team wants it, namely turnovers. The Raps played Julyan Stone, who had many zeros.
I can’t ignore the shooting guard story. Randy Foye, who’s been wildly inconsistent throughout his career, was having another off-day shooting. Darrell Arthur came in, and made all 7 shots he tried. Landry Fields, who’s our backup to DD, at least in theory, never got off the pine.
Terrence Ross seemed to have a decent game, with 10 points including 2 of 4 from distance, though minus-19 is a downer. He wasn’t the only victim of Nate Robinson’s brilliant 18 points in the final quarter. Robinson was available as a free agent, but the Raps didn’t pursue him. We often get wise when it’s too late.
The Raptors hit the road, starting in northern California against the formidable Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night.
Putbacks: Your Correspondent nailed the Raps’ points exactly, but undercut the Nuggets by 10, in our preview….we also predicted the advancement of Tyler Hansbrough to the starting five, and that occurred….the demotion certainly didn’t work as a tonic on Amir Johnson, who was scoreless in 14+ minutes….Aaron Gray, who might have slowed down Mozgov, was in street clothes.
Brian Boake is Senior Editor for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.
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