It is easy to forget that Nick Nurse is a first year head coach in the NBA. The Toronto Raptors general is a risk taker, doing whatever it takes to dethrone the back to back NBA champions Golden State Warriors.
And in this playoffs, he has established an identity for the Raptors that is rooted in tough, physical defense. Holding the Warriors to 39.6 percent shooting from the field, the Raptors put up their largest scoring total of the playoffs, winning 123-109 on the road in Oakland. And while the full team effort must be highlighted, it was Nurse’s defensive adjustments to slow down this prolific Warriors offense that enabled the Raptors to close out the victory.
“I give our guys a lot of credit,” stated Nurse after the game. “Each time they chipped, we kind of answered back. And that’s kind of what you got to do if
you’re going to keep your lead.”
Nick Nurse and the Box-And-One Defense
Not even a herculean, 47 point performance from Steph Curry could catalyze the Golden State Warriors to defeat the Toronto Raptors. And it all starts with a defensive adjustment stemming from Game 2 that Steph Curry labeled as “janky.”
Introducing Nick Nurse’s unconventional box-and-one defense. Where a premier defender stops a signature scorer, with the other four organized in a zone defense to cover the rest of the floor. Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr had not seen this type of defense for quite some time.
“In ninth grade a team played one against me. Very proud to announce that. I had a box-and-one, just like Steph. So janky defenses have been going on for a long time,” Kerr said.
In the final 5:39 of the 4th quarter down to Andre Igoudala’s game clinching three, the Warriors did not register a single bucket. And Steph Curry, who was dealing with the ferocious box-and-one defense from Fred VanVleet, was 0 for 0 from the field. People could scorn at Nick Nurse’s approach to defensive adjustments. But his willingness to be innovative on basketball’s biggest stage, earns the respect of many Raptors players, including Kyle Lowry. It may have not got the Raptors the victory, but it put the team in a position to win.
“You can laugh at it. You could clown it,” says Lowry. “[But] nothing Nick does surprises me now on the on the court as a coach. It doesn’t surprise me. That one kind of caught me off guard, but, yeah, it was innovative.”
Nick Nurse’s Defensive Adjustments Continued for Game 3
While the box-and-one defense was still evident in Game 3, Nick Nurse made another key defensive adjustment. Whenever Steph Curry was setting, the Raptors defenders would switch off to cover the other Warriors on the floor. In the situations where the Raptors would double team Curry, they relied heavily on the presence of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka in the post, to make it difficult for the other Warriors players to drive the basket.
Nick Nurse’s adjustments on defense were pivotal in the Raptors being more aggressive on the glass against the Warriors, getting 35 defensive rebounds to Golden State’s 28. Serge Ibaka secured five rebounds and six blocks, limiting Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins and Steph Curry to less than 50 percent shooting from the field. Nurse was particularly impressed with Ibaka’s energy and ferocity inside the post in the second half, when the game could have teetered in the Warriors favour.
“We switched a couple matchups to get Serge back by the rim, and once he gets one or two [blocks], he starts getting a bunch of them,” says Nurse. “I thought that was a big boost to our team was his activity tonight.
What’s Next Up Nick Nurse’s Sleeve?
The solid defense turned into stellar offense for the Raptors. Led by Kyle Lowry, the Raptors were able to push aggressively on the transition, off of the 14 turnovers they created for the Warriors on defense. Lowry, who had 23 points, four rebounds and nine assists, told Nick Nurse before the game he was going to have a big performance.
“I had a little talk with him before the game, and his kind of comments to me was he was going to let it rip tonight,” asserted Nurse. “When
he’s going good, it means he’s hitting the paint, he’s attacking off the screen and roll and really getting downhill. That’s usually a sign that he’s got a lot of his
offensive game and confidence going.”
It’s no secret that Nick Nurse is a bit unconventional. From his love of music to his “NN” hats during press conferences, Nurse has an affinity to doing things a little differently. And his innovative style of coaching has provided the impetus for success in all the levels he has coached, from the D league to the NBA.
Two wins away from an NBA championship, Nick Nurse knows his team can reach another level. And the Warriors will respond, particularly if Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant return from injury.
The tougher the challenge, the greater the opportunity for Nick Nurse to concoct a new scheme to quell the Golden State Warriors. And his players will be ready to rise to the momentous occasion.
“He’s coached a lot of different levels, seen a lot of different games. . . he is experimental, and a lot of times what he draws up on the board works,” stated Kawhi Leonard.