Photo by Kim Clement
After losing to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Valentine’s Day, it was clear that the Toronto Raptors needed to switch things up. Losing to the worst team in the league tends to send a shock through your system.
Since that loss, the Toronto Raptors have rattled off four straight wins and did so, for the most part, without Kyle Lowry; beating two of the East’s top 3 teams in the process.
A lot of the credit is, rightfully so, with the players. Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet have seemingly gained the trust of the fanbase now, if they hadn’t already, and Chris Boucher has been playing elite defence both on and off the court.
But I think it’s about time that the Raptor of The Week honours go to none other than the head coach himself.
Nick Nurse is not used to losing in the NBA.
Up until this year, he had never had a losing record and had a winning percentage over 70 percent. To be fair, he did inherit a championship winning team but last year’s team was ravaged by injuries and he was rewarded for his work.
But still, starting 2-8 on the season is a foreign concept for Nurse and he has been forced to make more than a few on-the-fly adjustments so far this year.
One of those adjustments being his shift to a smaller starting lineup.
Nurse has capitalized on the strong play of Norman Powell, keeping him in the starting lineup even after the return of OG Anunoby.
Against Milwaukee, it was justifiable as they don’t need a centre to guard a guy like Giannis Antetokounmpo, but it was the games against Minnesota and Philadelphia that showed signs that Toronto may not need a guy like Andre Drummond to stop MVP-calibre big men.
With that being said, there we saw flashes of the consequences that a small lineup can bring you.
When Aron Baynes wasn’t on the floor, Embiid was getting whatever he wanted in the post, but Nurse used his Australian centre in the right moments as Baynes was used well coming off the bench to disrupt Embiid’s flow.
D-FENCE! *clap* *clap*
Their offense has left things to be desired, but their defence has been a whole other story.
Like my editor-in-chief so kindly pointed out, the Raps held the Timberwolves scoreless for pretty much the last four minutes in their game on February 19th.
Last night, on a similar vibe, Toronto went over seven minutes in the fourth quarter without conceding a basket. They don’t even need to be good at offence if they keep that trend up.
One of the most impressive observations about the way Nurse has coached this team over this four-game win streak is what he has been able to get out of everyone and not just his starters.
Nurse has looked deep into his bench these last four games, last night being the lowest amount of players seeing the court at nine.
Every game it seems like another rotation player has been given a chance to contribute, as Nurse has shown massive amounts of trust in his players. While Pascal and Freddy have been getting more and more consistent its a nice feeling knowing that there are about five or six guys who can be trusted to take the go ahead jumper.