It has been over a decade since the Raptors have won in Denver and it’s been even longer since they last won 11 games in the month of January, but Toronto went into the Mile-High City on the last day of the month and took care of business on both counts.
The Raptors like to play defense and the Nuggets like to run, but without Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson, Denver was going to have issues playing run and gun. By the time it was over, Denver had turned the ball over 23 times and far too often, it was the result of passes to nobody, the Nuggets missed their point guards and lost 100-90 in a game that got completely out of hand during the third quarter.
Toronto lead by as many as 25 points early in the fourth quarter and with the score 99-75, didn’t score another field goal after the 7:43 mark. It wasn’t because of a lockdown Denver defense either and Head Coach Dwane Casey let his players know about it.
“I let the players know about it,” Casey said. “I was disappointed in the close. It is a four quarter game. If you are serious about being a winning team and we haven’t done anything in this league to think that just because we have a 20 point lead, they are going to walk away and teams are going to do what you want to do. We got to finish out games and be strong physically and mentally.”
To start, the game was played fast and loose with little regard for defense and both teams shot 50 percent or better in the first half. The Raptors leading the first quarter 29-25 on a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Kyle Lowry and winning the second quarter 31-28 on a spectacular fast break dunk by Terrence Ross over the head of Kenneth Faried with 5 seconds left.
In the third quarter, the Raptors decided to start playing their game, holding the Nuggets to just 17 points, while Toronto’s newest All-Star DeMar DeRozan found his offensive form and scored 14 of his game-high 19 points. This contest was over by the time the third quarter ended and the Raptors backed into an easy win.
Terrence Ross played well for Toronto, scoring 18 points on 7-10 shooting to go with 2 steals and 3 blocks. Ross was a disruptive force at both ends of the court – spectacular dunkage notwithstanding. Off the bench, Tyler Hansbrough, a masked Patrick Patterson and John Salmons all made big contributions as the Raptors reserves outscored the Nuggets bench 31-22.
Evan Fournier and J.J. Hickson led the Nuggets with 18 points each and Randy Foye did his best at point guard with 10 points, 16 assists and 8 turnovers, just missing the suspect triple-double. Fournier added 7 turnovers, but no assists. Things are not going to be easy for Denver until they get at least one of their point guards back.
With the win, the Raptors go 11-6 in January to tie a franchise best first set in 2002 and improve their overall record to 25-21. They now lead the Atlantic Division by 4 games over the Brooklyn Nets and maintain a half game lead over the Hawks for third place in the Eastern Conference. Toronto’s winning ways go back to December 8th when the team told Rudy Gay he had been traded to Sacramento. The Raptors are 19-9 since then.
Toronto heads to Portland on the back-to-back to play the Trail Blazers on Saturday.
The Nuggets remain at home and play the Clippers on Monday.
On a historical note, the Chris Bosh led Raptors were 4 games above .500 at 26-22 on January 31, 2010 after beating Indiana.
Ujiri’s Dilemma: Raptors Veterans Are Winners
“I wouldn’t say me and the newly acquired guys are the answer,” Chuck Hayes said. “We are all just committed, that is all it is. Our chemistry is great. There are no egos in this locker room. Everybody is enjoying it. When you enjoy working together, everything falls into place.”
Therein lies Ujiri’s dilemma.