The Raptors closed out their four-game Western Conference road trip at 2-2 after a nine-point loss to the Denver Nuggets Sunday night.
Considering the injuries the team has dealt with and the quality of competition on the four-game trip, finishing at .500 is no minor accomplishment. Down five important players, Toronto still found itself in a position to win on the road vs. the West's No. 1 seed.
From the Raptors' depth to their rough play down the stretch, here are four takeaways from the loss in Denver.
Next Man Up
It was a battle of undermanned teams as the Nuggets were down six players and three starters and the Raptors were down five players and four that have spent time in the starting lineup this season.
The team benefitted from Torrey Craig's 13 points as well as 12 points from Monte Morris. Injuries to Gary Harris and Will Barton made for more opportunities for Craig and Morris and the two made the most of them
As Toronto was without Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Jonas Valanciunas and Norman Powell, more opportunities were presented for Delon Wright, CJ Miles, OG Anunoby Greg Monroe and Lorenzo Brown. While Wright thrived (15 points, eight rebounds, four assists), Miles, Anunoby, Brown and Monroe combined to score 21 points on 8-for-35 shooting.
With more experience in such situations, the Raptors that see increased time will be better prepared to contribute more. The replacements - not the injuries - proved to be a major difference on Sunday night.
Kawhi Leonard's two-way prowess
In Sunday night's loss, Kawhi Leonard showed off his impressive offensive arsenal.
The 2014 Finals MVP finished the night with 29 points (on 12-for-14 shooting), 14 rebounds and four assists, scoring in a variety of ways from all three levels. On a night that had plenty of negatives, Leonard was a bright spot for the team, serving as a matchup nightmare for whoever the Nuggets put on him.
On the defensive end, Leonard was disruptive by getting deflections and corraling loose balls, often making the effort plays that led to 12 of his 14 rebounds coming on the defensive end.
When the team is missing Kyle Lowry, it is important that Leonard displays the assertiveness that he showed tonight and in the second half of the team's loss in Portland.
3-point shooting is the difference
Perimeter shooting continues to be a barometer of success for this Raptors team.
In Sunday's loss, Toronto shot just 7-for-35 (20 percent) from deep. It was the 10th time this season that the Raptors shot below 30 percent from 3-point range and the team dropped to 4-6 in such games meaning six of the Raptors' nine losses have come on poor 3-point shooting nights.
The Nuggets sank three more 3-pointers than their opponent on two fewer attempts to shoot at a 33.3 percent clip from the game.
As the Raptors approach the halfway point of the regular season, it becomes more and more evident that the team can go as far as its 3-point shooting will take it.
A fourth quarter to forget
With 3:53 remaining in the third quarter, the Raptors held a 70-57 lead over the Nuggets. Denver proceeded to go on an 11-2 run to close the quarter, but Toronto maintained a four-point lead heading into the fourth.
Things went downhill in the fourth quarter as the Nuggets opened on a 12-0 run to take an eight-point lead and never really looked back.
Denver outscored Toronto 27-14 in the final 12 minutes of the game - Nuggets guard Jamal Murray scored 15 points (on 6-for-8 shooting) to outscore the Raptors on his own.
🏀 @BeMore27 sparks the @nuggets win with 15 4th quarter PTS! #MileHighBasketball pic.twitter.com/NS0Krv1HLc- NBA (@NBA) December 17, 2018
It was a rough shooting quarter for Toronto, as it went 4-for-23 from the field and 1-for-13 from deep. Kawhi Leonard (2-for-4) was the only player to shoot above 40 percent from the field while OG Anunoby struggled, shooting 1-for-7 from the field and 1-for-5 from beyond the arc.
The Nuggets, on the other hand, finished the final frame shooting 11-for-18 from the field and knocked down two of their seven 3-point attempts. Toronto saw plenty of quality looks in the fourth quarter, but an inability to convert is what ultimately led to the team's downfall.
If there was any time Nick Nurse missed having three of his five players that close the game, it was down the stretch Sunday night.