Raptors rattle Nikola Jokic just enough for perhaps their biggest win of the season
DENVER The 1-3-1 zone defence was a bit of a new trick that caused some disruption, and every time Nikola Jokić spun with the ball there was a second or a third defender waiting to swarm him.
The Raptors went deep into their bag of defensive magic tricks here Saturday night.
But was one of the most unusual lineups in a season that’s been full of them that kept the Raptors in another delightful game against a talented opponent.
Barnes, Dalano Banton, Thad Young, Chris Boucher and Khem Birch turned a six-point deficit after three quarters into an eight-point lead with about three minutes left and Toronto pulled off an entirely unexpected win, beating the Nuggets 127-115.
“Man, did they have a run,” coach Nick Nurse said of the odd group. “It didn’t feel very good the first two minutes and 30 seconds, and I was antsy to maybe bring Gary (Trent Jr.) or some shooting back in, but then they really dominated and they got to run it out almost.”
Said Boucher: “It’s just five guys playing hard and trying to help each other. That’s one thing we do good: Everybody, one through 15, plays hard every time and is ready to play. Even though it doesn’t look good every time, we try hard to make something happen.”
It was a tremendous performance on the second night of a back-to-back, at altitude, against a 40-win team after a gruelling Toronto win in Phoenix on Friday night.
If it wasn’t their best win of the season, it’s near the top of the list. And back-to-back road wins over the Suns and Nuggets is something to crow about.
And everyone had a hand in it.
“I think Thad kind of made a couple tough shots, Dalano made a play or two, Scottie made a play or two … I think Chris … with the putbacks and then that corner three, he probably had the most impactful job,” Nurse said.
“But listen, they just wouldn’t leave until they scored, right? Khem tipping them around. They were, all three, really tough on the glass, and then I thought Scottie made some timely just kind of iso moves right down the lane and used the size.”
Siakam finished with 33 points and Barnes had 25, with 10 assists and eight rebounds, but it was that odd fourth-quarter bunch that turned the game. Boucher ended up with 21 points and 13 rebounds, while Achiuwa had 15 points.
Now, it’s hard to say any team “slowed” Jokić when he put up 26 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, but the Raptors did as good a job as anyone at keeping him in check.
And considering that when it was put to Nurse that Jokić is, for the lack of a better phrase, “crazy good,” it didn’t take the Raptors coach long to get the meaning and even less time to agree with the assessment.
“He is,” Nurse said. “Crazy good, and almost baffling good.”
Baffling might be the most appropriate description of Jokić’s myriad skills because it’s next to impossible to figure out the seven-footer.
The Raptors had Achiuwa try to front him, and Young try to bang with him, and every time Jokić got the ball with a defender on his back help came from somewhere. And Jokić still led his team in points, rebounds and assists.