Bench finds its mojo in Raptors win but starters still searching

Photo of Bench finds its mojo in Raptors win but starters still searching

The Denver Nuggets were supposed to be tired.

They played in Philly the night before. They were on the sixth game of a seven-game trip that began in Memphis 10 days earlier.

By rights, they should have been easy pickings for a rested, preparing-for-playoff-battle Raptors squad.

Instead, they put up 58 points in the first half and that seed of doubt that has been starting to grow over these past six games or so as the Raptors’ defence has started taking on water grew that much more.

There’s no panic button to push as Fred VanVleet kindly pointed out for an overzealous questioner earlier in the day, but there is a definite need to see the Raptors put together the kind of game that got them to the 54-win plateau with nine games remaining going into last night.

Once again this one came down to the bench who were coming off a rare night where they did not better the opposing reserves in the loss to the Clippers.

It was the bench who put together a 15-2 run through the fourth quarter that turned this one in Toronto’s favour for good as they outlasted the big man duo of Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap, who looked like they just might win this one on their own for a 114-110 win.

VanVleet, who has 16 points in each of the past three games coming into last night, had 15 on a near perfect 5-for-7 night from the field that included three from behind the arc.

VanVleet has been a member of head coach Dwane Casey’s closing five for some time now and only appears to be getting more comfortable in the role.

Jakob Poeltl opened the game with four fouls in six minutes late in the first quarter and then went for a long seat on the bench.

He got back in to start the fourth and looked determined to make up for lost time going off for 12 in the quarter and finishing with eight rebounds.

It was Toronto’s bench at its absolute best in that fourth quarter.

It got the Raptors a game they needed having lost three of the past five if for no other reason than just to restore.

Still needed is a game like that from the starters who have been in a bit of funk for a while now and need to re-establish their dominance going into the playoffs.


Jamaal Murray may need a good long nap at some point this afternoon.

The Kitchener native played 35 minutes in a loss in Philadelphia on Sunday night and then came right back and put in 40 more in the loss to Toronto.

Murray also had the added responsibilities of catering to a slew of family and friends who came calling with Denver in for the lone trip this season.

Through it all, the combo guard — he has actually playing the point for the Nuggets at the moment but seems more suited to the shooting guard — Murray stayed strong, finishing with 15 points, three assists and four rebounds.

“He’s never lacked for confidence but he’s using it in the right way right now,” Casey said before the game. “His speed, his ability to go from slow to fast and still pull up for his three-point shot. He’s really, really improved as far as his play is concerned. Still not really, truly a point guard, so to speak, but does a good job of pushing the ball up the floor and, you know, treading water as far as safely getting it to other people. But still more of a combo-guard, but a very, very talented young man.”


The last thing the Raptors need right now is to have a rotation player go down this close to the start of the playoffs.

Momentarily that looked like a good possibility last night when Pascal Siakam had his right knee collapse awkwardly under the weight of Denver big man Mason Plumlee.

Plumlee, listed as 6-foot-11 and 235 pounds, rolled right up the Raptor forwards right leg as both fell to the court late in the first quarter.

Siakam stayed down for quite a while but got up and walked it off never even leaving the game.

Any concerns about any lingering effects from the collision were put to rest throughout the fourth quarter as Siakam, Poeltl and VanVleet put on a show helping the Raptors finally put the pesky Nuggets down.


Serge Ibaka needed a good night shooting. The Raptors power forward who is first and foremost a rim protector and rebounder for the Raptors, has a tendency to see that side of his game drop off when his shots aren’t falling.

Tuesday night against the Nuggets, Ibaka initially struggled from distance but hit his final three point attempt of the night and overall was 6-for-11 from the field.


With the win, the Raptors are back on track for a 60-win season. Following the loss Sunday to the Clippers, the Raptors had fallen off that pace … Anyone worried about an over-reliance on two or three players on this Raptors team had to walk away from Tuesday’s win somewhat relieved. Seven different Raptors scored in double figures, none had more than 15 points and no Raptor took more than the 12 shots DeMar DeRozan took. Throw in the 33 assists as a team and just nine turnovers and even those 58 first-half points start to lose a lot of the sting.

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