Welcome to the "10 things" recap by theScore features writer William Lou, which serves to highlight emerging trends from a Raptors perspective.
Thriller: The Raptors battled back after a sluggish start and finally took the lead in the last minute of the game. However, the officials essentially awarded the Nuggets the win with seven seconds left when a foul was called for a grab by Serge Ibaka on Nikola Jokic before the inbound. There was contact, but it seemed like the run-of-the-mill type of grabbing that happens in every close game.
Unstoppable: Jokic put the Nuggets on his back. Not only did he nail three clutch free throws and a blind floater over Ibaka in the dying seconds, but he bullied the Raptors in every aspect of the game. Jokic sprayed effortless cross-court passes, got guards open off curls, was a beast on the offensive glass, and scored seemingly at will. He was even a deterrent at the rim. He finished with 23 points on 13 shots, 11 rebounds, and 15 assists.
Bricks: Aside from Jokic, the Raptors were doomed by their inability to connect from deep. Toronto shot 11-for-41 as a team, and Danny Green missed a wide-open triple in a tie game off an offensive rebound that would have given the Raptors a two-point edge with 12 seconds left.
Concern: Defensive rebounding also contributed to the loss. Denver grabbed 15 offensive boards and held an absurd 23-2 advantage in second-chance points. Ibaka's inability to hold his position (five rebounds) is part of the issue, but it's also on the wings for failing to help out.
Clutch: Kawhi Leonard delivered for the Raptors down the stretch. He dribbled past Juancho Hernangomez for an 18-footer to give Toronto a brief one-point lead with 55 seconds left, then beat Paul Millsap off the dribble for a baseline fadeaway that tied the game.
Execution: On both possessions in the final minute, Leonard was able to attack off the catch and immediately make his move, which allowed him to get separation. That wasn't the case when Leonard came up short against Boston and Detroit.
Encouraging: The second unit was surprisingly good. The execution wasn't incredible, but the all-bench lineups played with energy and fearlessness in transition, which is how the group succeeded last season. The bench gave the starters a chance to win it in the fourth by cutting an 11-point deficit down to four.
Boost: Delon Wright stepped up for the bench during the fourth-quarter run. Not only was he disruptive defensively, but he also got to the rim off the high screen and found open shooters with cross-court passes, which is something Fred VanVleet has been unable to do.
Switch: Wright should see more opportunities to run the point, even though it's clear that Nick Nurse has more faith in VanVleet. After a key timeout in the fourth, VanVleet stayed in the game while Wright took a seat, and VanVleet promptly bricked a bailout three.
Invisible: Kyle Lowry was phenomenal with his playmaking (11 assists), but it's hard to overlook his measly five points in the loss. Lowry just doesn't get to the rim anymore and his 3-point shot has been inconsistent all season.