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Injury-ridden Toronto Raptors Blow Second-largest Lead of 2023-24 in Loss to Denver Nuggets

Gradey Dick was the longest-tenured Raptor in the starting lineup as Toronto surrendered a 22-point lead in Colorado.
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The Toronto Raptors looked like they might grab a miraculous win against the Denver Nuggets on Monday night in their visit to Ball Arena. Instead, they blew a 22-point second-quarter lead on their way to a 125-119 loss, dropping their 42nd game of the 2023-24 season.

Denver’s second-half comeback marked the Raptors' second-largest blown lead this season, one point short of the 135-127 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on February 4.

With forced heavy rotation and an abundance of injuries, the Raptors put in a strong, somewhat surprising performance against the Nuggets and carried a 68-51 lead into the second half despite missing Scottie Barnes, Immanuel Quickley, Chris Boucher, and Jakob Poeltl to injury.

Leaning on a makeshift lineup, with rookie Gradey Dick the longest-tenured Raptor among the starting five, Toronto settled into the game quickly, with Dick posting 13 first-half points before putting up a 17-point total on a night that showcased his two-way and playmaking abilities.

While Dick’s hot start against one of the better NBA defensive teams took the focus early for the Raptors, it was Canadian RJ Barrett leading the team, scoring 26 points, including going 10 for 20 from beyond the arc.

In a matchup featuring three Canadians, including Raptors Kelly Olynyk, Barrett, and Denver’s Jamal Murray, the latter pair finished as the highest-scoring Canadians, each putting up 26 in the contest.

While Dick’s prowess and play-driving allowed the Raptors to settle into the matchup, it was a defensive focus from Toronto in the first half that kept them in the battle, holding Nuggets superstar Nikola Jokic to just 12 first-half points before the Serbian 29-year-old exploded in the second half, finishing with a team-high 35, along with three rebounds for his 21st triple-double of the season.

Jokic finished with 35 points, 17 rebounds, 12 assists, 6 steals, and 2 blocks. Per Basketball Reference's StatHead, a stat line never previously recorded in NBA history. 

After Toronto’s strong start, the Nuggets began to find their stride on home court, taking advantage of their cohesive effort and size. Aaron Gordon pushed his way through the Toronto defence to allow Jokic to get the most out of his offensive opportunities.

Despite a timeout, the Raptors couldn’t settle things in the second half. The home team continued to build its lead, making shots in critical moments, while Toronto came up short in its comeback efforts despite going head-to-head until the final shots.

As the 2024 NBA Playoffs become an ever-distant dream for the Raptors, they look to be a team that can take early advantage of contenders, which, like the Nuggets, can approach what has become a lighter opponent with the wrong mentality, allowing Toronto to navigate their way through challenging matchups early.

Yet, even with the Nuggets taking Toronto lightly in the early moments, it was inevitable that the star-studded roster would hit their form, as they did in the second half, marching their way back from the 22-point deficit.

Now coming off their second-largest blown lead of the season, head coach Darko Rajaković and the Raptors look towards another game away from home, paying a visit to the lowly Detroit Pistons on Wednesday before returning to home court to take on the Orlando Magic on March 13.