The Nuggets put together their best effort of summer league on Monday night, but couldn’t make enough plays down the stretch to pull out a victory. The narrow, 82-81 loss to the Raptors, however, featured the type of play coach Micah Nori and the staff has been looking for since competition began last week.
“Remember back in the day, when Bo Schembechler said ‘we won everywhere except for the scoreboard?’ That’s kind of what it felt like,” Nuggets summer league coach Micah Nori said.
Winning everywhere started with heady play. The Nuggets kept turnovers down, they turned up defensive intensity and got solid performances from Malik Beasley (19 points, five rebounds) and Torrey Craig (15 points).
The third quarter was Beasley’s quarter. He heated up quickly, scoring 10 points in a three-minute stretch that helped the Nuggets rally from a 46-37 halftime deficit to a 65-63 lead when the quarter was done. Beasley scored 12 points in all in the third, making 5-of-8 shots from the field. Two of them were 3-pointers. The Nuggets closed the period on a 12-3 run.
Meanwhile, defensively they were solid, holding Toronto to 37 percent in the third to help get themselves back into the game.
“Defensively, we brought it,” said center Henry Sims, who played a prominent role, finishing with 12 points and five rebounds. “This was the best out of the three games that we played defensively.”
And while everyone contributed to a solid defensive effort, Craig’s work stood out. He helped the Nuggets slow down Toronto guard Fred VanVleet in the second half after he’d scored 13 points in the first. With Craig leading, the Nuggets limited VanVleet to just four points in the second half.
“He was great, couldn’t ask for anything more,” said Nori of Craig. “He’s long, he’s active, he kept Fred in front of him. And gave us some big shots, some big plays; rebounding. I just thought he had he had his best game of the summer league.”
Asked about his performance, Craig said, “I think I had a pretty solid game. Had some breakdowns defensively and some shots I thought I should have knocked down, but overall I think I played pretty solid. I just tried to use my length and athleticism.”
The game had a wild finish, with both teams missing chances to gain control. When Juancho Hernangomez made two of three free throws with 14.5 seconds left, the Nuggets were down just one. Then Tyler Lydon stole a pass with 12 seconds to play to give them the ball and a chance to win. Beasley turned the ball over on the ensuing possession with 2.9 seconds left, but the team got one last shot because Toronto’s Pascal Siakam double-dribbled with 2.1 seconds to give the ball back to the Nuggets.
The Nuggets, however, had the inbounds pass knocked away and time ran out.
“I feel bad for the guys,” Nori said. “They’ve been working their butt off for the last nine days. They just kept going and going and going and gave themselves a chance.”
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org or @chrisadempsey on Twitter.