Raptors Takeaways: Rotation issues lead to disheartening defeat

Jamal Murray scored a game-high 24 points and the Denver Nuggets defeated the Toronto Raptors.

We knew there were going to be nights like this. Although they are tough to sit through, Masai Ujiri acknowledged there would be growing pains at times with his youth movement.

What looked brilliant against Portland on Monday was brutally bad on Wednesday against Denver. In a night where the accumulation of time on the road and the mile-high air caught up Toronto, the Raptors were caught off guard out of the gate and never rebounded, literally or figuratively.

It wasn’t a traditional scheduled loss as it wasn’t a back-to-back or third game in four nights, but it was clear Toronto didn’t have the legs to run with the revamped Nuggets. After cutting Denver’s lead to nine, Denver went on a 40-15 run and dropped Toronto to 4-3 on the season and 2-3 on the road trip. Here are some takeaways on Toronto’s most disheartening performance of the young season.

Depth Downfall
It’s tough to play more than 10 guys in the NBA. For reference sake, most teams play nine in the regular season and cut that to eight in the post-season.

The Raptors were playing 10 strong contributors and then were blessed with the news that their starting big men, Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas, would both return from injury. Casey vowed to play more men than usual Wednesday given the high altitude in Denver. But as was discussed on our Free Association podcast, there’s going to be minute casualties with the team’s added depth.

To start the year Lucas Nogueira and Pascal Siakam were kept out of the rotation, but have now earned their way back in by playing career best basketball in their most recent opportunities. The two men who were on the outside looking in with the Raptors’ expanded rotation Wednesday were Jakob Poeltl and OG Anunoby. They played just three and five minutes in the first half respectively.

Nogueira was the first big off the bench over Poeltl. Toronto played 11 players in the first quarter alone before Poeltl checked in, which is surprising because at times Poeltl has been Toronto’s most well-rounded player. Siakam was the only Toronto big man (starter or bench player) to play over 19 minutes.

Hosted by Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis, Free Association takes fans inside the NBA with news, analysis and interviews.

No D without OG and JP
Anunoby and Poeltl are two of Toronto’s best one-on-one defenders. It was no coincidence that without them playing much, to start the game or second half that the Nuggets put up big points. Toronto gave up 34 points in the first quarter and 60 points in the first half. That was followed by 43 points to start the second half after Denver started the quarter on a 19-5 run. The first and third quarter were the worst defensive quarters Toronto has had this season. A far cry from the six points they gave up in the second quarter on Monday versus Portland with Poeltl and Anunoby anchoring the defence for large stretches.

Murray on a roll
If you’re looking for a Canadian to add to your fantasy team Jamal Murray is a great choice. Murray came in averaging 23 points a game on 53 per cent shooting in his last two games. Murray had just six points in 31 combined minutes in two games versus Toronto last year. This year the Kitchener-Waterloo native lit up Canada’s team for 24 points on 8-of-10 shooting and 3-of-5 from three and was plus-35 in just 21 minutes. Murray looks fully recovered from the hernia that he had operated on after struggling to play with it last year.

Change of Topic
The game was so bad the Raptors official Twitter account was trying to change the subject to anything else.

McKinnie Makes an Impression
Alfonso McKinnie got some minutes in the fourth quarter. After being undrafted in 2015, McKinnie spent time in the G League with the Windy City Bulls. McKinnie wasn’t shy and got four points in his first two minutes of NBA action. McKinnie finished with nine points and didn’t miss from the field while being a plus-14 in just nine minutes and didn’t look out of place in his first NBA appearance.

Next Up
The Raptors can still go .500 on the road trip with a win Friday in Utah at 9 p.m. ET. Luckily for them, Raptors killer Joe Johnson will miss the game due to injury. Toronto then returns for a three-game homestand with a tough game Sunday at 6 PM EST against Washington.