Undermanned and underdog Raptors nearly pull off upset over reigning champion Nuggets

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Good but ultimately not good enough as the story of this Raptors season took a very improbable turn in the Mile High City Monday night against the reigning champs.

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No one gave the Raptors any chance to pull off an upset given the litany of injuries that has beset this roster.

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What they did do was force the Nuggets to bring their A game when a game seemed to be slipping away.

Toronto was by far the superior team for 24 minutes, but when turnovers were being made in the third quarter the game’s tone began to change.

Denver would win, 125-119.

For the entire opening half, the Raptors had the look of an NBA champion and not the Nuggets.

Denver may have taken this decimated Toronto team for granted, but the truth is the visitors were playing at a high level, tracking down every loose ball, getting hands in the passing lanes, forcing turnovers, getting out in transition and making plenty of shots.

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It was quite impressive watching a lineup reduced to the point where the longest-tenured Raptors starter was rookie Gradey Dick.

Dick would have his finest moment of the season in his third start and second in a row.

Whether it was Dick, R.J. Barrett, Kelly Olynyk, to name a few, the Raptors gave it their all in putting a scare into the Nuggets.

Even when the Raptors played most of the night with a double-digit lead, one knew the Nuggets would make their inevitable run.

When it arrived in the second half, the Raptors never quit and would put up a valiant effort in the face of so much roster adversity.

No one could have envisioned this underwhelming Raptors roster playing a quality team such as the Nuggets with the outcome not decided until the game’s final minute.

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In terms of moral victories, it doesn’t get any better than Monday’s loss, Toronto’s fourth in a row.

It wasn’t hard to see Denver come back, but at the same time no one could have seen such an inspiring effort from the Raptors.

The night would turn out to be a tale of two halves.

In the end, it would turn out to be another lost night for the Raptors, who have now lost six of their past seven games and just as many players to injury.

BOUCHER NOT OK

Some disconcerting news was shared by the Raptors well before the team’s undermanned roster went toe to toe with the reigning NBA champions.

The club announced Chris Boucher, who has been a model of professionalism this season amid a reduced role, sustained a partial tear to the medial collateral ligament in his right knee.

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He will, according to the Raptors, undergo further assessment by specialists with an update to be provided as appropriate.

Boucher played one of his best games of the season during Saturday night’s OT loss in Portland when he tied the game with 0.7 seconds left in regulation.

Boucher fell to the floor after making the basket, a sequence that led to his injury.

He is the last remaining link, player-wise, to the Raptors’ 2019 title team, even though Boucher didn’t have much of a presence.

For obvious reasons, it is far too premature to speculate if Boucher will return this season.

In the event he doesn’t , it is very possible Boucher has played his last game for the Raptors.

BROTHERLY LOVE

For the first time in a Raptors uniform, Jontay Porter competed against his more heralded brother, Michael Porter, a key floor spacer and starter for the Nuggets.

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When he played for the Memphis Grizzlies, the Porter brothers were first seen on the floor together for opposing teams.

At Ball Arena, Jontay was outplaying his brother, showing an ability to make three-point shots, while trying to defend the Joker.

With no true point guard at their disposal, the Raptors had Porter handle the ball more in the frontcourt and would normally make the right read.

The two brothers exchanged jerseys following the final whistle.

GRIN AND BARRETT

With so many players unavailable, Barrett served as the team’s de facto point guard.

The team’s incumbent is Immanuel Quickley, who accompanied Barrett to Toronto when the Knicks and Raptors orchestrated their blockbuster trade.

The circumstances weren’t exactly ideal as the Raptors played their third game during this four-game road trip, which wraps up Wednesday night in Detroit.

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Barrett’s role with the Raptors has expanded from his time with the Knicks, but no one thought he’d be asked to facilitate an offence.

When players are moving well off the ball, an offence is able to flow.

Toronto was very good for the entire first half when shots were falling, turnovers forced with the team playing with a heightened sense of energy and enthusiasm.

Barrett ended the night by recording nine assists.

NO JOKE

Nikola Jokic recorded his 126th-career triple-double during the regular season.

The big man is well on his way to winning a league MVP for the third time in his career after he led Denver to its first-ever NBA championship last year when the native of Serbia was named finals MVP.

To their credit, the Raptors held the Joker in check during the opening half, despite an obvious size mismatch.

Olynyk started at centre for the Raptors with Porter backing him up.

Olynyk had sequences when he emerged as the game’s best big, especially on offence when his foot work, shot making and basketball smarts would stand out.

When it comes to IQ, foot work, shot creation and shot making, Jokic has very few peers.

In fact, there is no big in basketball with an overall game Jokic brings to the floor.

Jokic netted 35 points, hauled down 17 boards and dished off 12 dimes in Denver’s win.

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