Barnes delivers superstar performance in Raptors win over Denver
Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 127-115 win over the Denver Nuggets:
One – This win rivals their triple overtime win over Miami. It was supposed to be an expected loss just based on the circumstances. The Raptors had no point guards as Fred VanVleet was rested while Malachi Flynn remains out, their main defenseman against Nikola Jokic in OG Anunoby is injured and the team is coming into a back-to-back game at altitude.
To take that result as they did, beating Denver 34-16 in the fourth quarter for the knockout blow, shows the heart and character of this group. They could have easily thrown in the towel. Instead, the Raptors pushed themselves one game behind the coveted sixth seed.
Two – The Raptors got past the Nuggets in the fourth quarter. Surprisingly, it was a bench formation consisting of Scottie Barnes, Dalano Banton, Thaddeus Young, Chris Boucher and Khem Birch who secured this victory. On paper, the lineup doesn’t make sense because there’s no traditional guard, no ground spacer and he’s got a veteran de Young to cover the perimeter. But the Raptors imposed their will on the game and played to their strengths.
This lineup notched six offensive rebounds and forced six turnovers, resulting in 10 more shot attempts in the quarter than the Nuggets. This group was able to play their defense and finish in transition. They got down when needed, smashed the glass for second-chance points, and with all of that in their favor, Barnes’ two threes at the start of the fourth, and with Barnes setting up Boucher at the end, it’s the drops that broke the camel’s back. the back of the Nuggets.
Three — Nick Nurse is fearless. Not only did he trust that group to start the fourth, but he stuck with it as Denver won eight points, and he rode with the hot hand even after the Nuggets called timeout and brought Jokic back. in the game. There was an element of strategy, as Nurse lined up his players in a 1-3-1 zone, which piled the paint with several bodies stemming the wave of layups that sustained Denver through the first three quarters.
Nurse also saw the Nuggets have three small ground guards in the fourth, as well as a slow-footed cross in DeMarcus Cousins that can’t come back. The Raptors pressed their size advantage with Barnes, Young and Banton entering defense, while Boucher and Birch were relentless on the glass. Nurse only brought on Pascal Siakam with three minutes remaining, despite having 33 points in three quarters, but it was absolutely the right call. Nurse didn’t just cash in his chips after winning a hand, he shoved at the right time and doubled down.
Four – Barnes was a superstar from start to finish. He opened that game with a monstrous two-handed dunk after faking the entire Nuggets defense, then threw a 70-foot forward pass directly to Siakam into the post. Barnes carried the score throughout as the de facto point guard, and he led the bench unit into the fourth.
Barnes hit a triple to open the fourth, called for a clearance and knocked Jeff Green to the ground before converting the driving layup. He then missed his shot and placed Boucher in the corner, took a charge from Jokic who knocked him down in frustration and signaled Siakam for a driving lay-up at the end which forced the Nuggets to empty the bench. Barnes had 25 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists, which is his best game as a rookie, but in a few seasons that will just be normal. He just faced the reigning MVP, in his building, and surpassed him.
Five – Siakam carried the Raptors for three quarters. He drilled two threes straight away to establish the outside threat, but mostly dominated with his driving ability. Siakam was relentless to get to the basket, knowing the Nuggets had no one who could match him in size and speed since Aaron Gordon was out, and he took full advantage of it.
The Nuggets also don’t offer shot blocking through the middle between Jokic and Cousins, which meant Siakam could reach the rim at will. And in the moments the Nuggets blocked his path with an assisted defender, Siakam got the right reads on kick passes and his teammates were confident at three.
Consider this: The Raptors didn’t have a traditional point guard available, but the duo of Siakam and Barnes combined for 17 assists with just two turnovers.
Six – Boucher dominated the game in his role. Despite all the rumors that the Raptors don’t have a traditional big — and Boucher is unconventional, no matter how you try to label him — what gets lost are the benefits that come with it. Boucher’s activity was so high that he single-handedly matched the Nuggets in offensive rebounds with nine, while tacking on four blocks.
Boucher kept going around the Nuggets on defense. From flashing to the elbows for mid-range jumpers to beat the zone, to cuts for easy dunks, the rest was pure hustle and bustle. The icing on the cake was his final three to give the Raptors a 10 lead with two minutes left. Boucher showed no hesitation and paid no attention to the possibility of trying to burn the clock, and only focused on driving the nail to the coffin.
Seven – Birch was the unsung hero of the night. He admitted at the post-game press conference after beating Phoenix that his ailing knee needed constant treatment and his limited performance had led to backlash from fans. Yet he continues to play and there is a certain bravery in what he does both physically and mentally.
He appeared to be working a particularly slow close to end the third quarter as Denver hit a three, but Birch was as snappy as he had been all year in the fourth. He got five rebounds, three of them on the offensive side, timing his cut to capitalize on an offloading pass from Banton, while aiming for a gone-oop finish despite reversing the pass. It came in a game where Birch was demoted to second unit just hours after making two clutch saves, but there was not a word of complaint, nor a drop in resolve. Birch’s only goal is to win, and even with a bad knee and a string of bad beats, he keeps pushing.
Eight – Young showed exactly why he was brought in at the deadline. He held the whole group together in the fourth quarter. He drove for a pair of floaters and beat everyone to the floor for a layup after playing 11 minutes in a row. Between those moments, Young brought the ball back on two quick breaks to set up another pair of baskets. He saved what should have been a dunk for Cousins with a tape under the basket and snatched the ball from Will Barton during a basic drive late in the fourth.
Young’s fit with the Raptors as a positionally fluid forward who plays at both ends of the floor was clear from the moment of the deal, but it was the little one-on-one plays that stood out. He is in the right places at the right times.
Nine – Precious Achiuwa had a career-high four threes. Achiuwa was still up for a battle to guard against the much larger Jokic, who got him into foul trouble and forced his way into the post. But he gave it back right away, punishing Jokic for leaving him open at the line by drilling four triples. Achiuwa showed no hesitation in letting it fly. He was so effective that he was able to force a fake Nuggets defender off his feet on a fence, before driving him into defense to finish the one-and-one. Achiuwa is already a stifling defender and an elite athlete, but if he can hit threes with that kind of consistency, he’ll be a starter in this league for a long time.
Ten – Armoni Brooks was very solid in his start. Brooks joined the Raptors on a 10-day contract this week given injuries to VanVleet and Flynn and Nurse made the surprise choice to start him despite his limited experience. Brooks took just three offensive goals, which is to be expected given that more than 85% of his shot attempts in three seasons came from deep. But his activity in defense was a pleasant surprise. For a small guard, Brooks showed good athleticism as he blocked Barton on a jumper, recovered a deflection on a drive for a steal, while surprising Jokic with a double team from the blindside to trigger another fast break.