The Toronto Raptors appeared to be on their way to one of their most impressive wins of the season on Monday, outplaying the Western Conference-leading Denver Nuggets for the vast majority of the evening.
But things unravelled for Toronto in the dying minutes, with the team finding itself on the wrong end of back-to-back coach's challenges before a soft foul call on Jakob Poeltl led to a Scottie Barnes ejection. Denver would hit the ensuing free-throws to ice the 118-113 win.
Scottie Barnes was ejected for the first time in his career on this play in the final seconds of the game. pic.twitter.com/ebyhWL9Twt
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) March 7, 2023
It's unclear exactly what Barnes said to the officials to warrant the decision, but his body language didn't seem to be anything outlandish, especially given the one-point score differential with under 30 seconds remaining in the contest. It was the first time in Barnes' young career that he was tossed from a game.
“I was just saying something to myself and I guess he took offence to it, so just kicked me out of the game,” Barnes told reporters.
I’m in disbelief🤦🏽♂️
— Scott Barnes (@ScottBarnes561) March 7, 2023
Referee Scott Foster said the reigning Rookie of the Year was ejected for using verbiage which “directly questioned the integrity of the crew."
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse was visibly frustrated on multiple occasions down the stretch of the game and was disappointed with the whistle, especially after reviewing the calls in question on film after the final buzzer.
"I think it was a great game that looked like it was coming down to a great ending and it was a little bit unfortunate we didn't get to see a good ending," Nurse said. "Especially on the one Scottie got ejected on, there was nothing there, nothing.
"Scottie wasn't involved, they called the foul on [Poeltl] and there was nothing there."
Despite the tough-luck loss, Nurse was still impressed with the Raptors' effort in one of the NBA's toughest arenas to play in.
“We play like that, we’re probably going to be able to beat anybody,” Nurse said. “We probably outplayed them and executed really well and all those things. We just didn’t quite get it done at the very, very end.”
Perhaps the Raptors can use this defeat as motivation for a tough week ahead. Toronto has road dates with the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers before returning home for a rematch with the Nuggets next Tuesday.
Toronto currently sits ninth in the Eastern Conference and is five games back of the Brooklyn Nets for the sixth seed with 16 games remaining. Seeds seven through 10 in each conference are relegated to the play-in tournament.