DENVER (AP) — A lackluster effort in Los Angeles prompted Will Barton to challenge his Denver teammates after their worst loss of the season.
The veteran’s words hit home and the Nuggets responded with one of their best outings.
Nikola Jokic had 23 points, 18 rebounds and 11 assists for his 12th triple-double of the season to lead Denver over the short-handed Toronto Raptors, 133-118 yesterday.
The Nuggets tied a season high with 38 assists, doubling their total from their 29-point loss to the Clippers on Friday night. Coach Michael Malone said after that game that his team played soft, and Barton echoed that sentiment in the postgame locker room.
“Sometimes we can do a lot of assuming, being around each other so much. You can get complacent,” Monte Morris said. “For Will to stand up like that and let everyone know, down the line, play your role to a T, for him to stand up and do that made us come together even more.”
Denver played with more intensity, led by its All-Star centre. Jokic has 40 triple-doubles in his short career, completing his latest by feeding Jerami Grant on a dunk that helped the Nuggets pull away from the Raptors, who lost their third straight.
Grant finished with 16 points for Denver, which had eight players score in double figures.
“Even though Nikola had a triple-double and other guys played well, I thought Jerami Grant’s performance was the most impactful,” Malone said.
Toronto played without Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet for a second straight game but got a career night from OG Anunoby, who finished with 32 points on 12-of-16 shooting.
“It’s not tough,” Kyle Lowry, who finished with 17 points, said of playing short-handed. “Honestly, you’ve just got to play harder, and we’ve got to play a lot harder.”
Denver hit its first nine three-point attempts — five by Jamal Murray, who had 17 of his 22 points in the first 12 minutes — before Morris missed with 1:06 left in the first quarter. The Nuggets shot 63.6 per cent in the first quarter and 60 per cent in the first half.
Denver hit 50 per cent from long range and finished the game 56.6 per cent from the field.
“We didn’t do a good job of guarding them and putting some pressure on them,” Pascal Siakam said. “They had a lot of back-cuts, easy layups. Not a lot of protection under the rim.”
Jokic had 10 points and 10 rebounds at halftime and was already three assists shy of a triple-double.
The Raptors withstood the hot shooting to tie it at 60 in the second quarter and trailed just 73-69 at intermission. It was a two-point Denver lead late in the third quarter but the Nuggets opened up a 112-101 lead with 8:10 left in the fourth.