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NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse after winning game 6 ECF

These Raptors Needed A Punch In The Gut To Win

Maybe the regular season really is just 82 games of practice as the Raptors Kawhi Leonard describes it and the entire Golden State organization seems to treat things before the real season starts in April. Then, as head coach Nick Nurse admitted, it took a punch in the gut from the seventh place Orlando Magic to wake his team up to the fact the postseason was here.

“It took one punch in the gut from the Orlando Magic to understand we’d better start playing a lot harder,” Nurse responded to Pro Bball Report after winning the Eastern Conference Final. “I think we came out in Game 2 and you saw a totally different basketball team that started using their abilities to the best of their ability. That’s really the difference.”

After losing game one to the Magic, the Raptors crushed their first round opponent in four straight games, holding Orlando to an average of just 89 points and winning by an 18.8 point margin.

However, Nurse might have continued with this line of thought. His team got down 2-1 in the Philly series before upping their game to take three of the next four. In the Raptors four wins they held the 76ers to just 92.5 points, but gave up 107.3 in the three loses.

Then in Milwaukee the Raptors got punched in the gut yet again, twice, as the Bucks averaged 116.5 points to grab a 2-0 lead. Toronto waking up at home to play the level of defense they are capable of and take the next four in a row by holding the Bucks to just 97.8 points during regulation time (101.8 counting OT).

Nurse’s Raptors haven’t been starting series playing as hard as they can, but they have shown an ability to “flip the switch” defensively.

“Now, listen, we’ve learned and grown as well,” Nurse continued. “Our communication, scheme, switching, blitzing. Our rotations, contesting shots, all those things have been growing here since the start of the playoffs. The other thing is there are some moments, like stretches, we call them consecutive stops, and there are some stretches where it’s darned hard to complete a pass against us. That wears into a team after a while when you’re up into them and you’re denying and everybody is just that connected and playing that hard.”

That ability to stop a team from scoring for extended periods of time was on full display in games five and six against the Bucks as Milwaukee built double-digit leads in the third quarter of both games only to go ice-cold as Toronto took it away from them.

At this level it’s effort that separates the winners from the losers. Every team has elite talent, a superstar to lean on and can bury you offensively if you start taking possessions off.

“We end up showing all these clips and all these coverages and all these matchups and all these things and blah, blah, blah. Almost at the end of it every time, I say, This is about 15 percent of the game,” Nurse said. “The rest of it is are we going to sprint back and are we going to communicate great and are we going to get physical, are we going to get into bodies, are we going to block out with some toughness. I can keep going on and on, but that’s where the 85 percent comes from.”

Nurse has to be hoping that when the Warriors come to town to start the NBA Finals his Raptors don’t need another “punch in the gut” to get going. Golden State has an ability to hit a lot harder than anyone else.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at Scotiabank Arena and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Nick Nurse 2019 Game 6 NBA ECF

Raptors coach Nurse Says Xs and Os Won’t Decide Game 6

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse is under no delusions about how close-out games are really decided. Xs and Os will only take a team so far.

“I think my message is that this is a really good team we’re playing, and to beat them we’ve had to play extremely hard and physical and do some really good things,” Nurse said before game six. “That doesn’t change. These games are hard-fought. They last 48 minutes. I think my focus is it’s a 48-minute game. Doing about four or five things, really key things really well over those 48 minutes.”

Game six in Toronto will be won with heart and want-to and desire. Not giving up when you’re down double-digits and putting your foot on the neck if you can scratch out a decent lead.

“85 percent of it,” Nurse said. “I mean, that’s kind of the line I use. We end up showing all these clips and all these coverages and all these matchups and all these things and blah, blah, blah. Almost at the end of it every time, I say, This is about 15 percent of the game. The rest of it is are we going to sprint back and are we going to communicate great and are we going to get physical, are we going to get into bodies, are we going to block out with some toughness. I can keep going on and on, but that’s where the 85 percent comes from.”

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at Scotiabank Arena and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Nick Nurse Eastern Conference Finals 2019 game 3

Raptors Willing To Do Whatever It Takes To Win

There will be no holding back by the Toronto Raptors as they look to close out the Milwaukee Bucks in Game Six. This is what team president Masai Ujiri envisioned when traded away his franchise star DeMar DeRozan for the Spurs disgruntled superstar Kawhi Leonard and head coach Nick Nurse knows this is no time to worry about what might happen in a possible Game Seven.

“It’s a “whatever it takes” game,” Nurse said yesterday. “It’s an unlimited-minutes night. This is just like any other critical must-win games. Again, I stress this is a great team we’re playing, the same team we played in Games 1 and 2 and double overtime in Game 3. We’ve had to play really super hard and super well to get any victories. So we’re focusing our thoughts on the first part of that, playing super hard.”

Leonard is all about winning. He only reluctantly comes off the court and can slog thru heavy minutes while still upping his level of play like he did in 52 minutes of action scoring 8 points in the second overtime period of Game Three to lead his team to their first win in this series.

Nurse won’t hold his best player back in a close out game.

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer didn’t sound nearly so committed to winning in his comments yesterday.

How do we prepare, how do we get mentally and strategically and all those things prepared? Budenholzer said. “It’s all very similar. You do the same stuff. If you win, you continue. If you don’t, your season is done.

Giannis, it’s so impressive what he does and how important he is. What did he play, 39 minutes last night? So are you talking 40, 42? I don’t think it will go there. If we have to, we can. But I maintain that him getting appropriate rest, appropriate kind of just a chance to catch his breath, refuel.

Doing the “same stuff” has resulted in the Bucks first three-game losing streak of the season and the Raptors will be more than happy to watch Giannis Antetokounmpo refueling on the bench during a game that can send Toronto to the NBA Finals.

“These are games that now have significance as far as one team is going one direction and one is going the other,” Nurse said.

“Yeah. It’s an elimination game,” admitted Budenholzer. “It’s just a fact.”

This is no time to be worrying about minutes or rest. Nurse understands, this is a “whatever it takes” game.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at Scotiabank Arena and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse

Raptors Plan On Coasting Into Second Place

Outside of the red hot 9-1 Spurs and Rockets, who are very motivated currently, there seems to be a lot of coasting towards the postseason going on in the NBA these days and the Toronto Raptors aren’t any different as they coast towards a second place finish.

“For the last 12-14 games, (I’m) not really putting a ton of emphasis on the results,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse recently. “We want to play well. We want to pick off wins when we can get them, but I don’t think anybody can get caught up in the results.”

Three loses behind the first place Bucks and 4 losses ahead of the third place 76ers and only 11 games remaining, the Raptors are pretty much locked into their playoff seeding. Throw in the fact their first round opponent probably won’t be set until the last week of the regular season and Nurse doesn’t have a lot to use as motivation.

“It is a challenge,” Nurse admitted. “You can look around the league and it’s kind of going around a little bit. I think you are seeing mixed results all over the place.

“”It is a little bit difficult to focus.

“”I’m happy as always to get a look at some other guys and figure out where they are going or where they are not going.

“For now, (the rotation) is 10 or possibly 11. I’m okay with it now.

“I just want to keep finding guys minutes, continue to polish and expand our defensive coverages.”

So don’t look for Nurse to start tightening up the rotation or reacting to losses to teams the Raptors have no business dropping games to. Like last season, Toronto will be coasting towards the playoffs with 55-60 wins a sure thing and next to nothing to motivate them beyond just don’t get hurt.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

  

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Greg Monroe

The Raptors Battle For Minutes Will Be At Center

Raptors president Masai Ujiri has assembled the deepest, most experienced and most talented group of players of his reign in Toronto. Even with new head coach Nick Nurse suggesting he’ll play a deep rotation of 10 or 11 guys, there will be a battle for minutes that extends beyond the preseason and the it’s guys in the center facing the toughest challenge.

“We’re deep man,” Kyle Lowry said after practice in Vancouver. “There’s some competition going on right now.

“We haven’t gotten to the point yet to figure out minutes.”

But perhaps the most ominous thought crossing Lowry’s mind if you’re a center was,

“You can play Pascal (Siakam) at the five.”

Don’t think for a minute the other big guys on the Raptors don’t know the direction the NBA has been headed in for a while now and that a smaller uber-athlete like Siakam can steal minutes at the center spot.

Heading into camp with two former Spurs deservedly slotted into starting lineup and Greg Monroe the logical replacement for Jakob Poeltl at center in the second unit, coach Nurse is going to be forced into some tough decisions.

NBA Toronto Raptors

*  Kawhi Leonard’s minutes are from 2 seasons ago. There is some legitimate debate about whether Ibaka, Siakam or Anunoby should start at power forward.

There’s 240 available minutes and if Nurse would stick with a 10-man rotation, his decisions could become a lot easier, but this isn’t going to be easy.

1. Miles is a prolific three-point shooter in short minutes and there’s almost no chance he isn’t going to be part of the rotation.

2. Last year Dwane Casey found minutes for Norman Powell who has a $40 million contract, but Nurse isn’t going to find that task so easy this year unless the injuries pile up.

3. All of Valanciunas, Monroe and Ibaka are expecting significant minutes at center this season…. oops

Getting past Valanciunas will start at center and Nurse will have trouble cutting his minutes any further than Casey did last year, Monroe expects to be the backup center and Ibaka thinks he’ll be playing more in the post. Add in this team is expected to shoot more threes than ever before and will be more perimeter oriented, something has to give.

“Obviously it’s just coming in with the second group playing backup center,” Monroe explained. “I knew what I was coming into. That’s what I was expecting.”

“I spoke to the coach,” Ibaka said. “He wants me to be in the paint, offensive rebound. He wants me to protect the paint. That’s something I always loved to do.”

It’s worth remembering Monroe was really good in Boston playing with an elite team and Ibaka has almost been begging to be allowed to protect the rim as he did for the Thunder when he was a All Defensive First Team player instead of a three-point shooter.

However, if Nurse decides a small ball lineup with Leonard, Anunoby and Siakam plus a couple of guards gives him his best defense and a run-it-down-your-throat offense, minutes for the more traditional big guys are going to be even harder to find.

Someone(s) may not be very happy and Nurse’s job distributing minutes could be even tougher than it first appears.

It almost feels obvious that Lowry wants to play more minutes than he did last season and if the Raptors want to retain Leonard, he gets as many minutes as he wants too. As a pending free agent Leonard needs to show he’s 100 percent back, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise if the team’s new superstar is playing more minutes than he did in San Antonio.

Anunoby had a solid rookie campaign and has starter or better potential. The team has to want to see more from him this season in a bigger role. Then there’s impressive way Siakam plays. He’s a Nick Nurse-style big man and should be expected to earn the right to be on the court more than last year.

Not forgetting VanVleet got Sixth Man of the Year votes last year because of how well the Raptors offense ran with him on the court. Fresh off signing a new deal, he deserves a bigger role too.

The players on the Raptors very impressive second unit from last season are going to be tough to keep off the court.

Toronto can play almost any style out there. They can play big and slow or very fast. They have guys that can dominate in the paint as much as that happens in today’s game or they can stay on the perimeter and bomb away with threes. But all that versatility and depth comes with it’s own set of problems.

Training camp and preseason are easy, but once the games start to count and coach Nurse starts playing the way everyone believes he is the most comfortable, the real battle for minutes at the center spot is going to show up.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.