Sitting atop the Western Conference standings heading into Sunday, the Denver Nuggets welcomed the Toronto Raptors, the current No. 1 seed in the East, to Pepsi Center Sunday afternoon and won 96-85 to extend their winning streak to three games.
The game was tied after one and the Raptors led by eight at the half. Toronto went up 13 in the third on a 3-pointer from superstar wing Kawhi Leonard, but the Nuggets closed the quarter on a 11-2 run to pull to within four, heading into the fourth. Denver started the quarter on a 7-0 run and took the lead at 75-72 on a corner 3-pointer from point guard Jamal Murray, prompting the Raptors to call a timeout.
Denver went up nine on another bucket from Murray with 4:53 remaining and while Raptors would trim their deficit down to three, they’d never get any closer.
The Nuggets’ win clenched a 2-0 sweep in the season series between the teams. Denver defeated Toronto north of the border on Dec. 3.
“To beat that team twice in a season is a hell of an accomplishment for such a young team like ours,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.”
Nikola Jokic, once again, led the way for the Nuggets, scoring 26 points on 11-19 shooting to go along with nine rebounds and four assists in 35 minutes. After struggling early, missing seven of his first eight, Murray found his shooting stroke late. He connected on six of his last nine and scored 14 of his 19 in the fourth. Torrey Craig continued his hot shooting. Following a career-high 15-point performance in Friday’s night win against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the 6-foot-7, 215-pounder put up 13 points, knocking down three 3-pointers.
“He’s doing what he’s supposed to do,” Malone said of Jokic. “He’s our franchise player. We’re committed to him. We believe in him. He’s the future of this team. Whether we have guys out or we have a full roster, we expect a lot from Nikola.”
Reserve point guard Monte Morris added 12 points, four assists and four rebounds off the bench and Mason Plumlee put up 10 points and seven rebounds to help Denver improve to 20-9 on the season.
“We knew we had the whole fourth quarter left,” Murray said of his mind state when his team was down double-digits. “That’s a lot of playing time left and that’s not a lot of points.”
Leonard was nothing short of brilliant for the Raptors (23-9), putting up a double-double with 29 points and 13 rebounds. Raptors point guard Delon Wright contributed with 15 points and big man Serge Ibaka added 14 points and seven rebounds before fouling out with 1:37 left.
With 21, the Nuggets dished out eight more assists than the Raptors and committed three fewer turnovers (9) than their opposition.
The Nuggets host the Dallas Mavericks Tuesday at 7 p.m. That game will be broadcasted live on Altitude TV and streamed on AltitudeNOW.