DENVER — Toronto coach Dwane Casey wasn’t ready to celebrate after the Raptors ended a decade-long drought in Denver. He was too upset about his team’s lackluster finish.
DeMar DeRozan scored 19 points, Terrence Ross had 18 and Toronto, after opening a 25-point lead, settled for a 100-90 victory over the Nuggets on Friday night.
“We will take the ‘W,’ but it was not a quality finish,” Casey said. “I let the players know I was disappointed in the close. You can’t come in and feel like you have the game won with a 20-point lead. You have to continue to execute, be strong with the ball and continue to execute defensively if you want to be serious about winning in this league.”
Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry added 13 points apiece for the Raptors, who snapped a nine-game losing streak in the Mile High City dating to 2003.
Still, Casey’s postgame critique on his team’s fourth-quarter play — the Raptors were outscored 20-14 in the period — outweighed any sense of relief over the end of the streak.
“We have to finish a lot better,” Lowry said. “This is the NBA. Teams are going to make a run. We’re not going to be negative. We won the game. But we have to finish better than that.”
The Nuggets were dealing with their own problems. They announced during the game that guard Nate Robinson had season-ending surgery earlier Friday to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Robinson was injured in a spill underneath the Nuggets’ basket during the first quarter of Wednesday night’s loss to the Charlotte Bobcats.
The Nuggets also were without leading scorer Ty Lawson, who missed his second consecutive game Friday with a left rotator cuff strain.
“We don’t want anybody to feel sorry for us and we won’t feel sorry for ourselves,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said. “We just have to continue to fight, stay positive, keep working and just be more fundamentally sound.”
J.J. Hickson and Evan Fournier led the Nuggets with 18 points apiece. Hickson also had 13 rebounds. Randy Foye, normally a shooting guard switched to the point in the absence of Lawson and Robinson, had 10 points and a career-high 16 assists. But he also committed eight of the Nuggets’ 26 turnovers, which led to 29 points for Toronto.
“Randy played 43 minutes, Evan 38 minutes, and they’re not accustomed to playing that many minutes as well,” Shaw said. “They started getting tired, then we started losing our fundamentals and throwing the ball all over the place. That was our biggest thing tonight.”
Hickson said it is also going to take time for players to adjust to new, sometimes unfamiliar roles thrust on them by the backcourt injuries.
“It’s going to be a process,” Hickson said. “I can’t say it’s going to be a long process, because we don’t have much time. It has to be a quick process. But I think once guys get adjusted and settled in, we’ll be good.”
Toronto moved to a season high four games above .500 (25-21) and tied a franchise record with its 11th win in January. The Raptors also won 11 games in January 2002.
Leading by seven at halftime, the Raptors put together an 11-2 run late in the third quarter to go up 84-68 with 2:46 left in the period. DeRozan ignited the surge by driving through traffic and putting in a reverse layup off the glass and helped keep it going by knocking down a pair of jumpers.
By the start of the fourth quarter, the Raptors led by 16 points and 50 seconds later, Valanciunas dunked to stretch Toronto’s advantage to 90-70.
After Timofey Mozgov scored on a turnaround jumper for Denver, Toronto reeled off seven straight points, including a 3-pointer by John Salmons for a 97-72 lead with 8:47 left. The Nuggets made a late push with a 14-2 run cutting it to 99-86 on a dunk by Kenneth Faried with 3:32 remaining.
But Ross then blocked Fournier’s driving layup attempt and after Valanciunas made one of two free throws, the Nuggets lost another possession on a turnover by Foye, failing to get the deficit under double digits.
The Raptors turned a steal into a breakaway dunk by Ross for a 60-53 lead at halftime. The rim-rattling jam brought the Raptors’ bench to its feet.
NOTES: Foye had 11 assists in the first half, most by a Nuggets player in a half since Steve Blake had 11 on Feb. 14, 2007. ... Toronto won for the first time in Denver since an 81-74 victory on Dec. 30, 2003. ... Hickson has had a double-double in 12 of his last 23 games.