By Lori Ewing
THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO _ The Denver Nuggets spoiled a 34-point performance by DeMar DeRozan on Thursday, handing the Toronto Raptors a 106-105 loss.
Will Barton scored 22 points to top the Nuggets (7-13), while Danilo Gallinari added 21.
Kyle Lowry had 16 points, eight assists and six rebounds for the Raptors (12-8) in their first of six straight home games. Cory Joseph scored 15 points off the bench, while DeMarre Carroll had 10 points and six boards.
The Raptors were hot off a thrilling come-from-behind 96-86 victory over the Hawks in Atlanta the previous night, and Dwane Casey’s pre-game message to his team was consistency.
The Raptors coach wanted to avoid a repeat of last week, when Toronto edged the Wizards 84-82 in Washington, then “laid an egg” the next night at home against Phoenix.
Seems his message didn’t entirely get through. Denver led from the opening whistle and had cobbled together an 18-point advantage before halftime. The Nuggets took an 81-71 lead into the fourth quarter in front of an Air Canada Centre capacity crowd of 19,800.
The Raptors stepped up their defence and capitalized on several turnovers and when Joseph scored on a driving layup with 5:24 to play, it pulled Toronto to within two.
Denver hit right back, scoring six unanswered points.
The Raptors threatened a couple of times down the stretch. Luis Scola banked in a jumper to make it a three-point game with 26 seconds left, and then Carroll drilled a three-pointer to cut the Nuggets’ lead to two, with just 3.3 seconds left. But two free throws from Barton clinched the win, and a three-pointer at the buzzer by Lowry was virtually bonus points.
“To be a big time program, we’ve got to be consistent,” Casey said pre-game. “If we think about building a championship program, consistency. We just don’t want to go win a game in Atlanta and get all happy on the farm. Here comes Denver who is a very capable young team. . . they come in here and spank you.”
“So that’s my message, we have to start thinking that way, and not get overly excited because we win a game.”
The Raptors missed nine of their first 12 shots in a horrible first quarter that put them in an early 16-point hole. They shot just 36 per cent in the frame, and the Nuggets took a 29-19 advantage into the second.
The Nuggets stretched their lead to 18 points on a cutting layup by Nikola Jokic with 5:36 left in the second quarter, and Denver headed into the locker-room at halftime with a 56-42 advantage.
The Raptors showed some life in the third, and a running dunk by Carroll pulled them to within six.
The Raptors host the league-leading Golden State Warriors on Saturday, then Kobe Bryant and the L.A. Lakers on Monday.