Six minutes later they walked off the court more relieved than happy after withstanding a desperate rally by Toronto.
Corey Brewer scored 19 points, JaVale McGee had 17 points and five blocks, and the Nuggets held on to beat the Raptors 113-110 Monday night.
Andrea Bargnani scored 23 points for Toronto and Kyle Lowry had 24, including 12 in the fourth quarter when the Raptors cut a 17-point lead to one with 2:18 left.
"We dug ourselves too big of a hole," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "They are a good offensive team, they're a very explosive offensive team. We decided to play defence the last few minutes of the game, and it's too late."
It was the third time in the last four games that the Nuggets let a double-digit lead disappear late. This time they were able to hold on after losing at Utah and Golden State last week.
"I think it's a great win. It's what we needed. We needed a win," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "We've got to get better at finishing the game."
The Nuggets led 103-86 on a dunk by Kenneth Faried midway through the fourth before Toronto came storming back. The Raptors scored 11 straight points before Danilo Gallinari hit two free throws.
A 3-pointer by rookie Terrence Ross and two free throws by Lowry made it 105-104.
"Lowry started getting more aggressive going to the basket, getting fouls and finding open shooters," Nuggets guard Ty Lawson said. "We've got to be smarter and more focused on putting our foot on them when we're up 15 points."
Lawson, who finished with 16 points, hit a 3-pointer and Toronto missed its next three shots as Denver built a 110-104 cushion.
Lowry hit another 3 with 14 seconds left, and after two free throws from Andre Iguodala, Amir Johnson hit a 3 with 7.9 seconds remaining to make it 112-110.
"We stopped making shots, they started making shots," Brewer said. "NBA teams are going to make runs and they made their run late."
Faried hit one of two free throws with 5.8 seconds left and DeMar DeRozan missed a long 3 at the buzzer.
Faried had 18 points and 10 rebounds. Six players scored in double figures for Denver, which held a 23-9 edge in offensive rebounding.
"We made a commitment in the second half to play defence the whole time," Lowry said. "I don't think in the second half that they had too many fast-break points. We have to play like we did in the second half in the first 24."
The Nuggets looked as though they would sail to their first win in four games. They led 61-44 at halftime and maintained a double-digit lead throughout the third quarter.
Denver trailed 22-19 when it took control late in the first quarter. Brewer came off the bench and had two quick dunks and a layup to spark a 10-2 run to finish the period.
Brewer continued his tear in the second quarter. He scored nine points in 2:30 and McGee had an alley-oop dunk among his 11 first-half points to help Denver take a 38-26 lead before Toronto called a timeout.
Denver didn't let up. Jordan Hamilton scored six straight points to push the lead to 53-34 with 4:15 left in the first half. The Nuggets continued to turn missed shots and turnovers into easy baskets, outscoring Toronto 13-0 on the fast break in the first half.
"They were the aggressors. They really turned the game at that time," Casey said. "Altitude, real or perceived, really messed with guys."
NOTES: McGee had a career-high 16 free throw attempts. He made nine. ... Raptors F Linas Kleiza (sore left hip) did not play. He had an MRI on Monday afternoon but the results were not available yet. ... Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler, who has missed the last 10 games while trying to recover from off-season surgery on his left hip, will not join the team on its upcoming five-game road trip.