The Toronto Raptors nearly overcame their rough first half to come back and defeat the Denver Nuggets but fell just short, 106-103.
This battle between the Eastern and Western Conference's top teams did not disappoint, as the Raptors drop to 20-5 while the Nuggets advance to 16-7. Both teams still remain atop of their respective conferences.
Here are four takeaways from tonight's contest...
Brutal first-half 3-point shooting
The Raptors seemed like they were going to shoot themselves out of a chance of winning this one after the first two quarters.
They were 3-for-22 from beyond the arc in the first half, amounting to 13.8 percent shooting from deep. Starters Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam and Kawhi Leonard were a combined 0-for-8 from beyond the arc while Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and CJ Miles were a combined 1-for-7 off the bench. The only other two makes in the half came from Danny Green, who knocked down a 3-pointer for the first Raptors' bucket of the game, going 0-for 3 for the rest of the half and Serge Ibaka who went 1-for-3.
They started to see their threes fall in the third quarter going 5-for-9 but couldn't continue that into the fourth where they shot 3-for-10, including 0-for-3 in the final two minutes of the game.
As NBA.com's Gilbert McGregor pointed out in the game preview, both these teams rise and fall with their 3-point percentage. The Raptors are a perfect 15-0 when they shoot a higher 3-point percentage than their opponent, and that surely was not the case tonight. The Nuggets are now 12-1 when they outshoot their opponent's 3-point percentage, which did them justice tonight shooting 39.3 percent from deep compared to Toronto's 26.8 percent.
Rebounding and second chance points
When you shoot as poorly from the perimeter as the Raptors did tonight, it's important to crash the offensive glass and give yourself extra opportunities on that end of the floor. They did not do so tonight.
The Nuggets outrebounded the Raptors 49-41, including a 15-7 deficit on the offensive glass. Nikola Jokic (4 offensive rebounds), Mason Plumlee (3), Torrey Craig (3) and Juancho Hernangomez (2) did a fantastic job of corralling their team's misses, which helped create 23 second chance points.
Of the Raptors' seven offensive rebounds, they only had two second chance points. They weren't creating extra possessions off of their misses from long range and they were allowing the Nuggets to extend their offensive possessions all night long.
While this seems like it would have made a more drastic difference in the outcome of the game, Denver cancelled out a lot of those extra possessions by turning the ball over 20 times. However, the Raptors' 17 turnovers, along with their poor shooting and failure to earn second chance points could summarize how this one ended.
More from Lowry and VanVleet
It's no coincidence that Kyle Lowry had a tough night and the Raptors lost. In other times where Lowry has struggled, Fred VanVleet has been there to pick him up and help Toronto secure a win.
Lowry shot 1-for-7 from the field and 1-for-6 from deep for a total of five points. While he still had 11 assists, the Nuggets did not have to worry about him as a scoring threat. When the first group struggles to shoot like they did tonight, VanVleet is usually the spark off the bench to provide energy and instant offence. Instead, he shot 1-for-7 from the field and 0-for-5 from three for a total of two points.
It's extremely rare for both of these high-energy guards to share an off-night but their scoring absence showed in the loss. Kawhi Leonard (27 points) was forced to carry the bulk of the scoring load with only Serge Ibaka (15 points) and Pascal Siakam (14 points) joining him in double-figures.
Lowry is the motor that makes the Raptors run and VanVleet is responsible for keeping that motor running when Lowry's on the bench. In the event that Lowry and VanVleet both have a poor performance Toronto will have a hard time pulling off a victory and that was the case tonight, leaving Raptors fans wanting more from their two point guards.
Jokic's incredible performance
Nikola Jokic was surgical all night long versus the Raptors. He orchastrated the Nuggets' offence from the opening tip until the final buzzer, doing everything from scoring to rebounding to setting up teammates for easy open looks.
He had a double-double at the half with 14 points and 10 assists after recording seven assists in the first quarter alone!
The Joker dished out seven dimes in the first quarter!#MileHighBasketball pic.twitter.com/9qUEx1UJCV- Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) December 4, 2018
He finished the game with a triple-double of 23 points, 15 assists and 11 rebounds while shooting an efficient 8-for-13 from the field. He knocked down a clutch floater to give Denver the lead with 40 seconds left and when Kawhi tied the game up, he knocked down three game-clinching free throws to earn the Nuggets their sixth-straight win.
Before the season started, our NBA.com staff discussed if Jokic was already the greatest passing centre in NBA history and while it seems like a ridiculous claim for a player who's only played three and one-quarter seasons in the NBA, he made it look less outlandish tonight.
He was absolutely the difference maker in the outcome, as he was responsible for exactly half of the Nuggets' points (58 of 106) in the game.