DENVER — A short-handed group of Raptors, powered by a career game from OG Anunoby, scratched and clawed against a Western Conference powerhouse, but couldn’t quite seal the deal to start a tough trip on Sunday night. Toronto fell 133-118 in a wire-to-wire loss that was closer than the final score indicated. Anunoby had seven […]Siakam struggles, Murray and Jokic shine as Nuggets beat undersized Raptors — Toronto Sun.
DENVER — A short-handed group of Raptors, powered by a career game from OG Anunoby, scratched and clawed against a Western Conference powerhouse, but couldn’t quite seal the deal to start a tough trip on Sunday night.
Toronto fell 133-118 in a wire-to-wire loss that was closer than the final score indicated.
Anunoby had seven steals — tied for the most by any NBA player this season — plus a career-high 32 points to lead Toronto in an eye-opening performance against No. 2 seed Denver, but without top two centres Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, all-star Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic feasted, finishing with a 23-point, 17-rebound, 10-assist triple-double. Jamal Murray of Kitchener, Ont., got off to an incredible start for the Nuggets, connecting on all five of his first quarter three-point attempts for a quick 17 points to finish with 22. Denver hit its first nine treys of the night, yet never ran away with a game it simply had to have since it came on the heels of a brutal loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, after which the team had been called out by head coach Michael Malone.
“Obviously they were challenged to come in and be ready to go and they certainly were,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse.
And without so many key players, particularly up front, Toronto just couldn’t match up with one of the NBA’s best — and deepest — squads.
“I just think it seems like it catches up with you just a little bit here and there and that’s kind of just the difference in the game. Like, there’s a put-back here and put-back there and just some pretty easy offence when (Jokic) just goes down and parks in front of the rim and they throw it into him,” Nurse said. “There’s not much we can do because of the sheer size and strength of it.”
Still, a humble Jokic credited Toronto’s efforts and scheming.
“Their bigs did a good job being aggressive. They were pressuring the ball, they were pressuring every screen, it was really tough to get through. They were really aggressive, but I think we did a really good job of cutting, finding our open shots,” Jokic said. “They were collapsing in the paint a lot. They were giving up a lot of threes attempts. I think they are second in (the NBA) in defending those, but we made a lot of good shots and that’s why we won the game.”
The sublime Jokic and the explosive Murray playing like one of the league’s best combos was expected — that happens far more often than not — but all-star starter Pascal Siakam turning in one of his worst games of the season (15 missed shots, including 6-of-7 three-point attempts) was not. Jerami Grant completely outplayed a frustrated Siakam and puncutated his 16 point, six-assist night with a monster one-handed dunk against fill-in Toronto centre Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who played a tough game despite being undersized, particularly against Jokic.
“A little out of rhythm,” was how Nurse described Siakam’s game. “It looked like he was on his way to driving and he’d pull up mid-way and not get a very good look up or whatever. Just didn’t quite get (there). His three-balls were pretty clean looks, most of those, and those weren’t really falling and most of his drives just were not quite the rhythm of getting by or getting to a spot and getting on balance and things like that. He had a tough night there.”
Siakam concurred: “I gotta play better. As (a) leader of the team, you gotta play better, you can’t have games like that and I feel like it’s been too many of those. I’m not playing well, obviously. I’m missing a lot of shots, easy stuff, you know, shots I usually make you. I can’t afford to not make those shots and especially when I get in front of the rim, you know, I’ve gotta be able to finish that. Yeah, I’ve gotta play better.”
While Denver was missing former all-star power forward Paul Millsap, Toronto’s injury list continues to dwarf that of most opponents. Fred VanVleet and Ibaka missed their second straight games, while Gasol was out yet again due to his hamstring issue.
The good news was Gasol worked up a sweat in a pre-game warm-up and could be able to go through a practice as soon as tomorrow in Phoenix, while VanVleet (shoulder) and Ibaka (knee) were in good spirits in the dressing room before the game.
“I think all of them are getting some work in, they’re just not ready for game activity,” Nurse said. “So we’ll just keep moving forward and hopefully at some point on this trip we’ll get one, two or three of them back.”
VanVleet said he hurt his shoulder when Giannis Antetokounmpo caught him on a screen in a recent game. VanVleet joked that given their foot or so height difference, Antetokounmpo probably caught him with his hip or something sturdy like that.
Toronto’s final West Coast trio of the year continues against the Suns on Tuesday, before a Finals rematch in Golden State’s new San Francisco arena on Thursday.
Anunoby became the first Raptor to notch at least six steals in consecutive games and the first to score at least 30 in a six steal outing, but it wasn’t enough.
“We hit first,” Murray said. “I think we were aggressive on defence too and we were at home so we had an advantage. But they pushed the pace and made it a fun game … They did a box-and-one, but that doesn’t change how we play. Still got some great looks and we ran away with it. If they’re going to do that, Joker’s going to be passing the ball 4-on-4, I mean, that’s even better.”
Denver led 73-69 at the half, with little defence played by either side, and 100-96 after three, before turning it on in the fourth, both early, with its reserves, and later with its starters.
Norman Powell had 24 points for Toronto in his second game back from his own injury.
@WolstatSun0 CommentsShare your thoughtsNBA