There’s not one man on a championship team who deserves all the credit for winning, but there is often one man who deserves a ton of it. Right now, he isn’t getting nearly the praise he deserves. When you lose, you take all the blame. When you win, you get none of the credit. That’s the life of an NBA head coach. That’s the life of Nick Nurse.
The Raptors’ ability to stay even-keeled throughout the season and the playoffs has been well documented, being pointed to as one of the key reasons that this team has made it through all of the adversity: injuries, roster changes, forgettable “feuds” between management and players – all of which strengthened this team’s ability to keep rolling with the punches.
When Nick Nurse was asked Sunday afternoon where that mentality came from, he selflessly credited Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Kyle Lowry, and Marc Gasol for bringing that calmness to the locker room, and letting the young guys follow their lead.
There’s one more person though: the guy who has been coaching for 30 years across the globe at the college level, BBL, G League, and now NBA. He has won multiple Coach of the year awards, championships both overseas and in America, was the youngest college head coach in the country when he got his first gig, and is the only man ever to lead two different G League teams to a championship. Nick Nurse has been coaching basketball for longer than Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Norman Powell have been alive. If we’re talking about experience, Nurse has as much as anybody.
His professional approach to his job is a huge reason why everyone else on the team; from players, to assistant coaches, to trainers, have the same mindset of never being satisfied and continuing to grind until the job is done. The infamous clip of Raptors players walking back to the locker room after completing their undefeated business trip claiming that their mission is not over yet, and that they are not satisfied, has been circulating social media for the past couple days. While the players deserve credit for staying focused and level headed, there’s someone that trained them to be this way. That’s Nick Nurse.
From the day that he was hired as the Raptors head coach on June 14th, 2018, he insisted that things would be different. Where Casey was slow to adjust, Nurse recognized in his very first introductory press conference that, “We’ve gotta be innovative, we’ve gotta try and think of what’s coming next before it comes next.” Something that would have sounded encouraging to Raptors fans then, seems poetic now.
People doubted Masai’s decision to fire the reigning coach of the year and promote his assistant to lead the team. Fans claimed that Ujiri had no plan when he fired Dwane Casey, then couldn’t get anyone better to fill the coaching void, and ended up having to look inside the organization. What people didn’t know; Nurse was a majority of the reason that Casey won coach of the year. Nick Nurse had been pushing for the Raptors to move away from their pick-and-roll heavy, isolation-style offense for years before Masai pushed the “culture reset” button, and forced Casey to take Nurse’s advice, which led the team all the way to a 59-23 record, putting Casey on a pedestal. It was not Dwane Casey’s offense the team was running that he was getting credit for, it was Nurse’s.
After taking the reigns, he has only continued to improve this team, and in my opinion, was snubbed as a Coach of The Year candidate. People look up and down the roster, see the talent that Nurse was given, see the 58-24 record, and think that Nurse didn’t do anything exceptional enough to be put in the same category as Mike Budenholzer, Michael Malone, or Nate McMillan. Nurse admitted that he was given a Lamborghini, and that he just had to learn how to drive it. Well, it’s not the car that got the team this far, it’s the driver.
What fans didn’t see was the 22 games Kawhi missed, the various roster shakeups that occurred from last June through this February, or the constant injuries that this team was plagued with. Nurse was constantly having to change his gameplan due to different guys being in and out of the lineup on a nightly basis, which is not something most NBA coaches can excel with. Nurse though, who has a ton of G League experience, where you are essentially coaching a different team every night, knows exactly how to handle this kind of adversity.
On the court, he has not only run the Raptors offense at a high level, but has brought untraditional defensive schemes to the table. Multiple times during the regular season, we saw him break out a zone defense against teams just to throw a new look at them, and it resulted in a couple of comeback wins. Most notably, we saw the Raptors throw a box-one defense at Stephen Curry in Game 2 of the finals, a defensive scheme that coaches usually use in high school to stop star players, but is almost never seen at high levels. Nurse’s creativity ended up holding the Warriors to 2 points in over 6 minutes during the fourth quarter.
Just as Nurse said a few weeks ago that he was running out of good things to say about Kawhi, there’s not a lot of good stuff that you can say about Nurse that wouldn’t be true. He has been nothing short of legendary this season – both on and off the court. It’s time that we start giving him the credit he deserves because he’s on his way to greatness. Go get your “NN” hats folks. You won’t regret it.