In a battle of first-place teams, the Denver Nuggets came out on top with a big 106-103 road victory over the Toronto Raptors.
Coming into tonight, the Nuggets were tied with the Los Angeles Clippers for first place in the Western Conference, and with the win, Denver remain tied with the Clippers, but hold the first seed in the Western Conference by virtue of tiebreaker. With a record of 16-7, the Nuggets have now won six-straight games and have opened their five-game road trip with two solid victories.
In a highly anticipated matchup between two first-place teams, neither the Nuggets or Raptors disappointed from the opening tip. Both teams scored very effectively in the opening minutes of the first as the Nuggets started the game offensively with a Juancho Hernangomez 3-pointer and followed that up by drilling seven of their first 13 shots. Denver opened 2-of-4 from three-point range to help give them a 16-14 lead with 6:04 remaining in the opening quarter.
Out of the first media timeout, Toronto forced three-straight Nuggets turnovers in route to a 6-0 run to give them a 20-16 lead with just under four minutes remaining in the first. After a few back and fourth possessions, Denver was able to get back on track and ended the quarter on a 9-2 run to give them a 27-24 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Nuggets lead was in large part to the play of Nikola Jokic as he dished out seven assists in his 10 first-quarter minutes. A few of those assists went to Hernangomez, who finished as the Nuggets leading scorer after the first with seven points on 3-of-7 shooting from the field.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) December 4, 2018
Denver used the momentum they built near the end of the first quarter to start the second as they had the first four points of the second quarter thanks to a floater from Monte Morris and a dunk from Malik Beasley. The Raptors would battle back though with eight-straight points of their own to take a 35-33 lead with 7:18 left before half. Toronto taking the lead was in large part to the shooting by Denver as the Nuggets opened the second 3-of-10 shooting from the field, while also committing seven turnovers.
The Nuggets also got bad news midway though the second when it was announced that Gary Harris would not return after suffering a right hip injury. Harris appeared to hurt himself after attempting a lay-up in the first quarter and certainly threw a huge damper in the Nuggets chances of picking up a big time road win. Denver found a way to play through Harris’ absence though by going on a 15-6 run to give them a 48-41 lead with 3:04 left in the second.
Denver’s recipe for success remained the same: get the ball to Jokic and let him do his thing. Jokic would finish the half with 10 of the Nuggets 19 first-half assists to go along with his 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field. The play from Jokic was key in the Nuggets taking a 59-47 lead into the halftime locker room as Denver outscored Toronto 32-23 in the second quarter.
Joker dime 🔥 pic.twitter.com/QSbONKiATA
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 4, 2018
It was not just Jokic who lit up the first half stat sheet as Murray also poured in 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the field, 2-of-4 from distance. The play from Murray, Jokic, and the team as whole was big in the Nuggets shooting 24-of-48 from the field in the first half. Denver was not just doing it offensively though as their defense was also flying high as they forced Toronto to go just 20-of-47 from the field in the first half.
Taking a double-digit lead into the second half, the Nuggets had an opportunity to pick up a big time road win, while also picking up their sixth-straight win in the process. Toronto began the half with a three-pointer to cut the lead to single digits, but a couple Nuggets baskets later and the lead was back to 10 with 7:50 remaining in the third. Denver continued to ride the play of Jokic, who was up to 12 assists with seven minutes in the third to go along with his 14 points and seven rebounds.
With Jokic on his way to his second triple-double of the year, the Nuggets were able to maintain a fairly big lead for most of the third quarter before a quick spurt from Toronto cut the lead to 75-70 with 4:20 remaining in the period. Denver would answer though immediately going on a surge of their own to give themselves an 86-78 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Denver wound up getting outscored 31-27 in the third, but still found a way to take pretty decent lead into the fourth. The only Raptors player Denver had a hard time guarding was Kawhi Leonard, who finished the night with a game-high 27 points. As long as the Nuggets could find a way to stop Leonard in the final quarter, they had a pretty good shot of walking out of Toronto with the win.
The Nuggets struggled to begin the fourth quarter though as they started just 1-of-9 shooting from the field and allowed Toronto to cut the deficit to 89-88 with 7:40 left in the game. It was not till Jokic came back into the game that the Nuggets finally started to settle things down as the Nuggets big man collected his 10th rebound with six minutes left in the game to record his second triple-double of the season.
Toronto still maintained the momentum though and tied the game at 94 with 4:40 remaining. A Hernangomez three gave Denver the lead once again, before a Danny Green bucket tied the game back up at 97. The turnovers really started to mount up for Denver as they had 20 for the game and was the biggest reason why the Raptors were able to stay in the game.
Even with all the turnover troubles, the Nuggets still held a 100-99 lead with 1:17 left in the game and an opportunity to pad their advantage. A Leonard jumper with 54 seconds remaining made the score 101-100 in favor of Toronto and gave the Raptors their first lead of the second half. Just like they had all night, the Nuggets answered with a Jokic floater to give them a 102-101 lead with 40 seconds left in the game.
Two-straight missed 3-pointers from Green and a big rebound by Hernangomez gave the Nuggets two-free throws as they maintained a 102-101 lead with 12 seconds remaining. Hernangomez would go one of two from the line as the game was now in the hands of the Nuggets defense. Just like he has all his career, Leonard came up big in the clutch drilling a big step-back jumper to tie the game at 103, but the Nuggets still had seven seconds and a chance to win the game.
Before the Nuggets could even inbound the ball, the Raptors fouled Jokic to give him one free throw and allowing Denver to maintain possession of the ball. Jokic would make his free throw and got fouled the next possession to give the Nuggets a chance to extend their lead to three points. Jokic would do just that and Kyle Lowry would miss a three at the buzzer to give the Nuggets a big 106-103 victory over Toronto.
Stat leaders for the Nuggets were Murray, who finished with 21 points on 9-of-21 shooting from the field to go along with eight assists and seven rebounds. Other notable stat lines for the Nuggets came from Jokic, who recorded his second triple-double of the season finishing with 23 points on an efficient 8-of-13 shooting from the field to go along with 15 assists and 11 rebounds. Beasley also had a good game for Denver off the bench as he poured in 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field, 3-of-3 from behind the three-point line.
The Nuggets will now have a day off Tuesday before they are back in action Wednesday night in Orlando to face the Magic. This will be the second time Denver has faced the Magic this season as the Nuggets picked up a 112-87 victory in the two teams first matchup.