DENVER - Less than a week removed from a 51-point coming out party, Terrence Ross was at it again.
Ross had 16 points midway through Friday's game in Denver, connecting on six of his seven field goal attempts, none more memorable than his final bucket of the half.
The Raptors guard picked off a pass from Kenneth Faried - one of the Nuggets' 26 turnovers - and proceeded to go the length of the floor before throwing down one of the more emphatic one-handed dunks you'll ever see directly over the defending Manimal.
"I remember I had the ball, (Faried) had sprinted all the way down into the paint," Ross recalled. "So I knew he was kind of at a disadvantage and couldn't jump as high. I'm coming full speed (and) he still jumped pretty high but at the same time I had enough room to still finish."
The Raptors' bench said it all. Jonas Valanciunas had to use most of his seven-foot-four wingspan to hold half his teammates from running on the floor. Ross had gotten their attention.
"Man, it's got to be a nomination for dunk of the year so far, especially on a guy like that," said All-Star DeMar DeRozan, who was returning from a two-game absence with an ankle injury.
"That was big. I damn sure wouldn't have done it."
Ross was 11-years-old the last time the Raptors had won in Denver. It was December 30, 2003, over a decade ago. Since then Toronto had dropped nine straight in the Mile High City by an average of 17.8 points per loss.
The Raptors snapped that skid on Friday. In fact, it was the third time this season that they've broken a road losing streak of eight or more games to a specific opponent (winning in Milwaukee for the first time in nine visits and snapping a 10-game slide to the Lakers in Los Angeles). They defeated the Nuggets by double digits and tied a franchise mark for most wins in January with 11.
You wouldn't know it after the game.
"We'll take the W but I was disappointed and I let the players know about it," Dwane Casey said following a 100-90 victory over the depleted Nuggets. "I was disappointed in the close."
Toronto led by as many as 25 early in the fourth before the visitors went ice cold. They went six minutes without scoring and didn't register a field goal over the final 7:44 of the game.
"You can't come in and feel like you've got the game won with a 20-point lead," said the Raptors' coach, infuriated after the victory. "You've got to continue to execute, continue to be strong with the ball, continue to execute defensively if you want to be serious about winning in this league and until you grow up and do that, you're going to end up on the short end more times than not."
"We can't be satisfied with the way we played in the fourth quarter."
Times have changed and so too have the expectations. The bar has been raised, evident in Casey's post-game rant.
"You have to respect that," said DeRozan, who tallied 14 of his 19 points in the third quarter. "It's not acceptable how we finished that game off with the turnovers. We have to learn to keep leads and close out games."
Casey's team was excellent through three quarters, and to begin the fourth. When it was all said and done they were fortunate to be facing an undermanned Nuggets squad, missing leading scorer Ty Lawson, along with Nate Robinson and Andre Miller.
Without a true point guard in the lineup, the Nuggets turned the ball over more than any Raptors' opponent this season, resulting in 29 Toronto points. Still, Denver out-rebounded the Raptors by nine and bested them 50-38 in the paint.
"They kicked our behinds in the paint and that was one of our focuses going into the game," Casey said. "We were soft going to the ball, slow reacting to the ball."
In the end, the Raptors opened a five-game trip with a win, got off the schneid in Denver and welcomed DeRozan back to the lineup 24 hours after he was named a first-time All-Star.
"We'll take the win," Casey said. "We're happy with the win but we can't be satisfied.