Nuggets pound Raptors inside
Denver dominated in the paint as Toronto drops 20th on season
The final four minutes of the third quarter probably said as much about what's happened to the Toronto Raptors this season than any of the quotes, platitudes or complaints printed in newspapers and on websites across the land.
Yes, the local NBAers lost 114-107 to the visiting Denver Nuggets (21-12), dropping to 12-20.
But it was those closing moments of the third that must have left the 18,879 fans at the Air Canada Centre wondering just what the heck is going on.
Toronto was up three after a Jose Calderon trey and playing well without big man Jermaine O'Neal (out with a bruised knee) when Denver went on a run to go up 81-77, causing a timeout call by Raptors' coach Jay Triano.
What had the rookie boss angry was for the previous five minutes the Raptors had been in the bonus (any Denver foul would send Toronto to the line for free throws) but the team would not go inside to try and draw those chances.
So he told them what was on his mind, in a fatherly sort of way, and added that running the correct defensive sets would also be nice.
Out went the troops again but they still wouldn't go inside and they messed up on defence so Triano burned another time out after about a minute and gave it to his team for about 10 seconds loudly and directly, before sitting down and letting the players chat among themselves.
Chris Bosh did a little yelling, they went out on the floor, the captain charged the rim, drew a foul and then promptly missed both shots from the line.
Raptors trailed 85-77 after three.
Failures down the stretch
Jump ahead to about four minutes left in the game and Calderon had just hit a three to close the gap to 101-98. Cue more trouble:
- After a Denver miss, Bosh came back and instead of going inside threw up a three — and clanked it.
- Nene had a pair down the other end and Andrea Bargnani (who actually had a strong night standing in for O'Neal) missed from the field.
- Nuggets' Chauncey Billups hit a three pointer (that's his game) and Bargnani came from a timeout to miss from long range.
When Carmelo Anthony hit for a pair the other way it was 108-98 Denver and the game was done from there.
"We have too many lapses, we don't play the intense basketball we need to play for the whole game, we always have a gap in the 48 minutes," Bosh said afterwards.
"It's been a struggle early on, things really haven't gone our way, but we haven't played the basketball that we're capable of playing yet."
Nene finished with 21 to lead the Nuggets, who had seven players in double figures. Carmelo Anthony, sore elbow and all, came up with 20 points, five rebounds and a couple of steals, while J.R. Smith had 16 off the bench.
Bargnani had 26 points and six rebounds to go along with a pair of steals and five blocks in one of his best games of the season.
Bosh added 24 points and 11 boards while Calderon, also without Jason Kapono to work with on the wings (bruised thigh) finished with 18 points, 11 assists, five rebounds and a surprisingly high five turnovers.
Triano believes his team is lacking in confidence.
"I don't think in the history of the game anybody's pitched a shutout," he said. "There's going to be a basket scored against you and we can't stop and look around like 'Who's fault is this? Why did we get scored?'
"Throw the ball inbounds and play."
Better first half
Toronto got off to a slow start, falling behind 9-2, before pulling it together on the coat tails of Calderon who was running his offence aggressively.
Best from the Raptors' standpoint was the way the wing players were getting involved for the first time in a while.
Jamario Moon had eight points and four strong rebounds in the opening 12 minutes (but he'd finish with just 10) and Anthony Parker popped in five points (on the way to 12) as Toronto took a 31-29 lead into the second period.
Andrea stepped up
Bargnani, facing intense pressure without O'Neal, turned in a strong first half, picking up 11 points to lead the club and adding three rebounds, two steals and three blocks.
Denver led the game 53-50 at the half, led by a dozen points off the bench by Smith.
Calderon finished the first half in foul trouble with three and wound up playing just under 15 minutes.