Denver Nuggets 133, Toronto Raptors 118: Three takeaways
The Nuggets proved their resiliency by quickly putting a poor performance Friday night, when they fell by 29 points to the Los Angeles Clippers, behind them with an assertive 133-118 win against the defending champion Raptors less than 48 hours later.
"They responded. They definitely responded," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said after the game. "That was the worst version of ourselves in L.A. the other night, from top to bottom, myself and all the players. Tonight, we challenged ourselves to go out and perform [to] our best version of ourselves. I thought we did that."
Nikol Jokić paced the Nuggets with his 12th triple-double of the season and 40th of his career, pouring in 23 points, 18 rebounds and 11 assists on 72.7 percent shooting. Eight of Denver’s players finished in double-figures in scoring. Toronto was led by OG Anunoby, who had 32 points and seven boards.
Here are the takeaways:
Jamal Murray sparks downtown barrage
The Raptors came into the game having the best three-point defense in the NBA, allowing opponents to shoot just 33.6 percent from downtown. None of that mattered to Nuggets point guard Jamal Murray, who had six threes on the night.
Murray was sizzling from tip-off, hitting his first six shots, including an incredible 5 of 5 start from behind the arc. The 23-year-old would score 17 of his 22 points in the opening 12 minutes of the game. Murray’s precision from downtown appeared to be contagious as the Nuggets hit an impressive 18 of 36 on three-pointers.
It was a much-needed bounce back from Malone’s team, who had struggled to connect from downtown in their lopsided loss in Los Angeles. The Nuggets made just 9 of 25 triples against the star-studded Clippers.
Jokić unstoppable once again
At just 25, Jokic is three triple-doubles away from tying Fat Lever’s all-time Nuggets franchise record of 43. That underlines the center’s impact since joining the team in 2015. Jokic has put up MVP-caliber numbers since the start of 2020 and his astonishing form carried into Sunday’s matchup.
With the Raptors missing two key frontcourt players in Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, Toronto tried to defend Denver’s 7-footer with the 6-7 Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and 6-9 Chris Boucher. Jokić torched the Raptors’ interior defense with an 8 of 11 shooting night.
"Nothing [surprises me about Jokić], he's a great player," Michael Porter Jr. said. "When he's in attack mode and really looking for his [opportunities], he'll get a triple-double every game. He's an amazing player."
The center’s highly-efficient night also extended to playmaking, where he dropped 11 dimes on just two turnovers. Prior to Sunday’s game, Jokić had been averaging 24.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists on a stellar 54.2 percent shooting since Jan. 2.
Defense steps up
Denver conceded 118 points on the night, but the team was effective in curtailing what Toronto does best — fast breaks and three-pointers.
In the second half, the Nuggets forced the Raptors, who lead the NBA in fast break points, to execute their offense in half court sets. The visitors’ inability to get on the break also appeared to take their All-Star Pascal Siakam out of rhythm. The power forward finished the night shooting a woeful 6 of 21 from the field. Some of the Raptors’ struggles have to be attributed to the absences of Gasol and Fred VanVleet, but the Nuggets deserve credit for imposing their will early and being assertive.
"I thought [Jerami] Grant's defense on Pascal Siakam, an All-Star starter, was terrific," Malone said.
The team built a 29-17 lead in the first quarter largely due to protecting the rim and not allowing Toronto to get hot from behind the arc. The Raptors shot just 3 of 10 from downtown in the first quarter and would finish with just 10 threes on the night on 26.3 percent shooting. That’s a drastic dip from their regular season average of 37.3 – good for fourth in the league.