‘Melo-less Nuggets Triumphant in T.O.
No Carmelo Anthony. No Jose Calderon. No defence? That was the scene early at the Air Canada Centre as both the Denver Nuggets and Toronto Raptors got off to a furious offensive battle in their showdown at the Air Canada Centre on Friday night. The 123-116 Nuggets win snapped their two-game slump and sent the Raptors back to the drawing board to try to make sense – and make right – another coming out of the half. With all the talk surrounding Nuggets head coach George Karl’s chance for 1,000th win before the game the Nuggets used the third quarter to create enough of a cushion to deliver the feat after a spirited Raptors run late in the game.
“Never worry until it’s under four,” joked Karl following the triumph. “Thats my code, that’s my creed.”
“The NBA gives away leads way too much and why it happens I have no idea. We’re infamous for it.”
The Nuggets hit their first six shot attempts of the game and the Raptors allowed the tandem of starting centre Nene and point guard Chauncy Billups to combine for 25 points in the quarter contributing big to the team’s 75% shooting. Despite scoring eight points off of six early Nuggets turnovers in the frame the home side still trailed the visitors 39-33 at the first break.
“We needed more of a directive personality,” continued Karl. “Chauncey and Nene got that option and I thought they did a great job in the first quarter, (but) other guys had good games. Al (Harrington) of course had a great game for us. Gary Forbes had a great third quarter for us that was really important. Without ‘Melo, if you told me we were going to score 123 I would have taken that so that’s kind of shocking that we scored that many points.”
The hot offence for both teams continued into the second stanza with the Nuggets hitting 4 of 8 shots to the Raptors 8 of 12 shooting in the first half of the quarter to make it 51-51 at the 7:31 mark. The Nuggets were buoyed by deadly three-point shooting, going 10 for 25 from beyond the arc on the night led by Al Harrington’s 6 of 11 mark from long-range, which included 3 of 5 from there in the second quarter. Meanwhile the Raptors were spurred by the play of former Nuggets player Linas Kleiza, who rocked the second frame with 17 points of his own by hitting 3 of 3 three-point shots in the Q. Karl warned during his pre-game chat that Kleiza and fellow former Nugget Sonny Weems might look to make a statement against their former club and he was right. With Weems contributing 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists and Kleiza lighting it up from downtown the Raptors’ offence continued its potency against a normally defensively-charged Nuggets squad. Kleiza had 19 points and eight rebounds in the first half and finished the game with 26 points and 12 rebounds but the Raptors still trailed 74-65 at the break.
The second half started out at a decidedly slower pace for the Raptors who allowed the Nuggets to stretch their nine-point halftime lead to 15 behind 5 of 10 shooting from the floor in the first five minutes. After a quick timeout Toronto scored and followed it with two quick stops but couldn’t turn it into a run. Instead the Nuggets took it the other way with a 6-2 push that prompted Raptors head coach Jay Triano to punch another timeout out of the game clock as the Nuggets’ lead swelled to 19. Once again it was Billups leading the way for the Nuggets, orchestrating the attack with three assists to compliment rookie Gary Forbes’ 13-point contribution in the frame.
Weems chalked up the lapse to a rattled team defence.
“We were unable to keep their guys in front of us and it resulted in a loss,” said Weems following the game. “They are a very good team, very athletic tea and they have mismnatches at every position. They did a great job of executing tonight.”
The Raptors on the other hand, went cold from the field until reserve Leandro Barbosa (22 points) began to chip away with two straight buckets in the last three minutes of the quarter to bring back some life to his fading squad.
Still despite the mounting Nuggets turnovers – they finished with 22 on the night – the Raptors could not take serious advantage though they did cut the lead to 12, putting them within striking distance fin time for the start of the fourth quarter.
In the fourth, while the Raptors continued to show energy, they could not close the gap. A ridiculous step back three-pointer from Harrington crushed a little more hope and Amir Johnson’s foul trouble interrupted the defence in key moments. When he returned at the 5:58 mark and his team down by 10 the damage was done. A telling sequence came later in the quarter when Weems hit a three to cut Denver’s lead to seven and glared at the Nuggets bench on his way back up the court. Too bad Nuggs reserve J.R. Smith was responding with a three -pointer of his own during the stare down, answering Weems before he even knew what happened.
Then came the crunch time where Bargnani, the emerging star of this Raptors team, hit a clutch three pointer to trim the Nuggets lead to four with 46.9 seconds to play. Later, a 20-second Raptors timeout with 19.5 left on the game clock failed to generate anything on the court and with Billups hitting 3 of 4 free throws down the stretch the game was sealed. The loss was the fourth in a row for the Raptors who were too spent to get over the hump. Karl got his 1,000th win in the same building he copped his 900th two seasons ago. The Raptors, as they did back then, were left to lick their wounds.
“Whenever I am shooting the ball well I think I am pretty tough to guard,” said Harrington, who finished with 31 points and 6 rebounds. “I hit two or three threes early and they had to try to get to me when i had the ball.
“All of us, everybody had to pull their weight a little bit more tonight. We were able to get the win and we needed it.”