Los Angeles, United States—The Toronto Raptors kept the pressure on in the NBA East race Tuesday as Serge Ibaka’s late dunk made the difference in a scrappy 104-101 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
There was late drama also for Western Conference leaders Denver in Miami, where Nuggets star Nikola Jokic capped another triple-double with a go-ahead floater in the waning seconds in the visitors’ 103-99 victory.
And it was close in Oklahoma City, where the Minnesota Timberwolves edged the Thunder 119-117 in Ryan Saunders’ first game as Minnesota’s interim coach after Tom Thibodeau was abruptly fired on Sunday.
Toronto coach Nick Nurse, whose Raptors improved to a league-leading 31-12 – one game in front of Milwaukee in the East – admitted it was tough going in a game in which the Raptors and Hawks combined for 46 turnovers.
“We pulled one out,” Nurse said. “We were trying to get away from them and we never could. We were down late there and had to make a couple stops and a couple scores and we did both of those things – so, pretty good.”
Kawhi Leonard led Toronto with 31 points. His sixth steal of the night led to Ibaka’s dunk with 17.1 seconds left, which put the Raptors up 102-101. A rebound by Ibaka on Atlanta’s next possession led to a dunk by OG Anunoby for the final margin.
In Miami, the Heat led by six with 5:27 to play, but Jokic’s 29 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists for Denver were ultimately too much for the hosts to overcome.
He drove through traffic to swish in the basket that put the Nuggets up 101-99 with 2.4 seconds left and Jamal Murray added two free throws to complete the scoring.
“The floater is kind of my game,” Jokic said. “I love that shot because I cannot dunk. It was a little bit more tight. (Bam) Adebayo was right there, I got a heavy knee in my charley horse. We won the game – that’s the most important thing.”
Denver improved to 27-12 and remained one game in front of two-time defending champions Golden State, who cruised to a 122-95 victory over the New York Knicks in Oakland, California.
Golden State star Klay Thompson’s 43 points included seven three-pointers. Stephen Curry chipped in 14 points and 14 assists and Kevin Durant had 24 points, six assists and six rebounds as the Warriors snapped a three-game home skid.
In Oklahoma City, Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins scored a season-high 40 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to lead the Timberwolves to victory in a game marred by a frightening fall for Thunder center Nerlens Noel.
Noel took an elbow to the face as he defended a driving Wiggins and crashed to the court, appearing to smack his head on the hardwood.
As he lay motionless, medical personnel were called and his teammates watched in worry as he was strapped to a stretcher and wheeled away.
Thunder coach Billy Donovan said after the game that Noel had been hospitalized but gave no details on the player’s condition.
Amid the tension that followed Noel’s fall, Russell Westbrook gave the Thunder a 115-114 lead with 1:14 left to play.
But Josh Okogie’s three-pointer with 26.8 seconds left put Minnesota up 119-115 and Westbrook missed two three-point attempts in the waning seconds that would have put Oklahoma City in front.
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