DENVER — Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey was irritated and frustrated with his team, and he let them know it.
Fortunately for the Raptors, they beat the Denver Nuggets on Friday night. Otherwise their coach might have really let loose.
Guard DeMar DeRozan returned to the lineup to score 19 points and the Raptors beat the short-handed Nuggets 100-90 on Friday night.
Forward Terrence Ross had 18 points for the Raptors, who won for the first time in 11 years in Denver.
It wasn’t a pretty finish for the surging Raptors, who won five of six and recorded their first 11-win January in 12 years. They led by as many as 27 in the fourth, but a let-up allowed the Nuggets to get close in the final four minutes.
“We can’t be satisfied with the way we played in the fourth quarter,” Casey said. “We haven’t done anything in this league to think because we have a 20-point lead that teams are going to let you do what you’re going to do. We’ll take the W, but it was not a quality finish.”
Center J.J. Hickson had 18 points and 13 rebounds and guard Evan Fournier scored 18 points for the Nuggets, who dropped their second straight home game.
Guard Randy Foye had a career-high 16 assists for the Nuggets.
Toronto’s win avenged an earlier home loss to the Nuggets. Denver won rather handily in Toronto on Dec. 1 in a game where the Nuggets’ reserves outscored the Raptors 72-16, led by Nate Robinson’s 23 points.
Things looked very different Friday — for both teams.
Eight days after that loss, Toronto pulled off a nine-player deal with Sacramento that brought in guards Greivis Vasquez and John Salmons and forwards Chuck Hayes and Patrick Patterson.
The Raptors played better since the deal, going 18-9 while getting solid production from all four players.
The Nuggets, meanwhile, were without their best player, guard Ty Lawson, and Robinson. Lawson is nursing a strained left rotator cuff while Robinson is done for the season after having surgery on his torn left ACL earlier Friday.
The Nuggets could have used both of them against the surging Raptors. Denver committed a season-high 26 turnovers, 10 in the third quarter when Toronto took control.
“The guys we’re asking to be playmakers in Ty’s absence and Nate’s absence, they’re used to being recipients,” coach Brian Shaw said. “Ty sets the table, he does all the penetrating and they just basically have to catch and shoot. Now they’re in a position where they have to set the table and play make.”
The Nuggets have dealt with plenty of injuries this season. Three players they hoped would be starting Friday — Lawson, forward Danilo Gallinari and center JaVale McGee — weren’t in the lineup. Add to that Robinson’s injury and the permanent leave of absence for guard Andre Miller and Denver is a shell of its 57-win team from last year.
“We have guys that our out but that doesn’t mean other guys can’t step up,” Hickson said. “If everybody does a little more we can make up for it. But our point guards are definitely missed.”
It showed Friday.
Leading 62-60 in the third, guard Kyle Lowry hit a 3-pointer to spark an 11-3 run that gave the Raptors a 10-point lead. Lowry hit a step-back 3-pointer and DeRozan hit a 17-foot fade away to make it 86-70 heading into the fourth.
The Raptors led 99-75 early in the fourth but went cold. Denver went on an 11-0 run to get make it interesting but really threatened.
DeRozan had 14 points in the third quarter after a tentative start to the game.
“I didn’t want to force myself early on. I wanted to fit into what the guys have been doing the last two games, try to get my rhythm back,” he said. “I picked it up in the third quarter.”
He said Casey was right to be angry about the fourth quarter.
“You have to respect that. It is not acceptable how we finished,” he said. “We have to learn how to keep leads and close out games.”
Ross had 16 points in the first half to help the Raptors take a 60-53 at the break. Toronto led by as many as 12, but the Nuggets pulled within four points on Hickson’s layup with 3:17 left in the second.
Forward Amir Johnson’s jumper stretched the lead to 58-50, Foye’s three-point play cut it to five and Denver had a chance to make it closer at the break but Ross’ fast-break dunk off a Johnson steal gave Toronto the seven-point lead at intermission.
NOTES: Nuggets G Nate Robinson’s surgery on Friday for a torn left ACL was performed by team doctor Steve Traina. Traina performed the same procedure on F Danilo Gallinari last week. … Toronto G DeMar DeRozan returned to the lineup after missing two games with a sprained left foot. DeRozan was named an Eastern Conference All-Star reserve on Thursday. … Denver G Ty Lawson’s strained left rotator cuff is improving but not enough to get back into the lineup. He has missed the past two games after suffering the injury on Sunday in Sacramento. … Toronto F Patrick Patterson returned to the lineup after missing one game with a broken nose. Patterson was wearing a protective mask on his face.
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