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During Tuesday night's game between the Toronto Raptors (20-32) and the Denver Nuggets, two fans seated behind the media table donned a large "D" and a cardboard cutout of a fence. Clearly, in light of Toronto's wild 109-108 high-octane victory, neither team paid much attention to the message behind the props.
Rudy Gay's go-ahead jumper with five seconds remaining held up as the game winner in what was a high-scoring, albeit sloppy, track meet of a game. The Raps struggled to contain Ty Lawson (29 points on 12-20 shooting) and the explosive Nuggets, even as they were without three of their four best wings (Andre Iguodala, Danilo Galinari and Wilson Chandler, although Cory Brewer played). For Toronto, DeMar DeRozan led the way with 22 points, Gay added 17 and John Lucas scored all but two of his 14 points in the fourth quarter, making four treys in the first six minutes of the frame.
Despite the offensive explosion, things were awfully messy for most of the night. In a game that included 36 turnovers and plenty of midcourt hot potato, the home side was ever-so-slightly better at protecting the ball (17 turnovers, to 19 by Denver).
Early on Tuesday night, it became abundantly clear that Toronto wasn't going to match the Nuggets' production in the open floor, nor were they going to be terribly successful at slowing them down. Therefore, they needed to find a weapon with which to combat them. Tactically, attempting to out-shoot Denver made sense, given the lack of viable defensive options on the perimeter for the visitors (of course, it's not like Toronto has been armed with dead-eye shooters this year). Luckily for the home fans, their team was able to execute as well, shooting 10-21 (47.6% - better than their over-all field goal mark) from three and making 21 of their 23 attempts from the line. Contrast that to the Nuggets, who, despite shooting 52% from the floor, made just six of 16 three-point attempts and hit just 14 of their 20 free throws. In a one-point game, those things hurt big-time. The best shooters: Lucas (5-9, 4-6 from three), Amir Johnson (4-6), Alan Anderson (4-7, 2-3 from downtown), Terrence Ross (3-6, 1-2) and Landry Fields (2-3).
A New Look?
Denver clearly outplayed the Raps in transition, but that doesn't necessarily mean that Toronto was hopeless when things went up tempo (okay, defensively they were). It was interesting to see Kyle Lowry (11-10) and DeRozan (22-8) really thrive in the open floor. Late in the game, a small lineup of Lowry/Lucas/DeRozan/Anderson/Johnson thrived by embracing the transition game. Even though the Raps were hammered in the paint (more on that in a moment), they still managed to keep relatively close pace in fast break points, only trailing 13-9.
A quick look over the Nuggets' roster doesn't exactly impose fear among opposing bigs. Their frontline (Kenneth Faried, Javale McGee, Kosta Koufos, Timofey Mozgov and Anthony Randolph) isn't exactly a murderer's row. But when you can penetrate in transition and get rebounding help from the savvy Andre Miller (six) and rookie Jordan Hamilton (five), not to mention Faried aka "the Manimal" (11 rebounds), you'll stay in command of the paint most nights. On Tuesday, with McGee playing just five minutes due to left tibia soreness, Denver out-rebounded Toronto 45-38 and out-scored them in the paint by a staggering 70-34 differential.
Yes, the Raps had two fewer turnovers than their opponents. And yes, turnovers were going to be a part of the game when you play the run-and-gun Nuggets. But 17 turnovers, many of which weren't particularly forced, still merits a place here.
- Can we just call Mozgov "the Poster"? Okay, so I'm not entirely sure how many kids still put sports posters on their walls, but whatever local poster shops are still around will surely be printing off a new one after DeRozan went through the 26-year old on an emphatic dunk to open the second quarter. Mozgov can already be seen flailing helplessly against Blake Griffin in another famous poster shot.
The Raps will finish out the pre-ASB slate with a visit to Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night (7:30pm, RSN). Toronto deserves to feel good about themselves as they ride their current three-game win streak, but they surely would rather not be visiting the Atlantic-leading Knicks 24 hours after burning up the floor vs. Denver.
Prediction: Knicks 94, Raps 90 (34-13 this season)