Nick Nurse and the Raptors look ever closer to an inevitable split

Nothing significant changed in the picture of the Eastern Conference Play-Ins on Friday night. In fact, the main results were in line with expectations.

Chicago won at Charlotte. Atlanta lost to Brooklyn. The Raptors lost 117-110 to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Hawks and Raptors (38-39) remain one game ahead of the Bulls, with the Raptors finishing second in a potential three-way tie, losing the tiebreaker with Atlanta and winning it against Chicago. It shouldn’t have felt like a particularly meaningful night.

When the coach openly wonders about his future? When do the Raptors allow a championship-caliber team to shoot 76% from the field in the first half? It doesn’t look like a simple loss in a season that has been too much for anyone involved.

Here’s what emerges from a night that was both disappointing and strange.

The question of training

When a team with legitimate expectations is having a relatively bad season, the position of the coaches is almost always in question. Yes, even if this coach won a championship. Frank Vogel won a title with the Lakers in 2020, and the franchise didn’t fire him until two full seasons later.

Still, Nick Nurse’s title with the Raptors in 2019 helped the franchise turn the corner. He is one of the most imaginative X and O coaches in the league, especially defensively. He is a good NBA coach.

Recently, and the Toronto Star reported league-wide speculation that Nurse and the Raptors could be heading for a divorce. . Both reports listed Ime Udoka, formerly of the Celtics, as a Toronto coaching candidate.

Let’s not speculate much about Part 2, other than to say that Raptors President Masai Ujiri interviewed Udoka for the vacant coaching position finally filled in 2018. Udoka had been involved with Basketball Without Borders, which works closely with Ujiri’s Giants of Africa program.

“I think I’m focused on this job, of course, and on this game,” Nurse told reporters in Philadelphia on Friday (I wasn’t there). “But I think 10 years is a good time to sit down and think a bit. I think we’re going to do all of that at the end of the season.

“It’s been 10 years for me now, which is a pretty good run.”

Nurse is referring to the 10 years he spent with the Raptors, the first five as an assistant under Dwane Casey. He went on to call the season “difficult” from “many points of view”. No one would argue.

Let’s just say it: strangely, a manager acknowledges that he will implicitly reflect on the job he currently has – and is under contract to fulfill next year – while the season is underway and his team plays meaningful games. Of course, there is almost no world in which a coach of his stature would enter the final season of his contract without an extension, which would be the case if he returned to Toronto without a new contract next year. The Raptors are still playing for something, though. Even though what he said is reminiscent of his job, it’s off enough of the normal response to be notable.

We’ll get into more of Nurse’s future as the schedule progresses. The front office and coaching staff have not been perfectly aligned at times this year, and the fact that the half-court attack, seen as a weakness heading into the season, has been so unproductive that worrying is a major problem. Whether you blame the front office roster or blame the coach, there hasn’t been a significant improvement there.

The nurse is by no means the main problem for the Raptors. However, when a coach calls on the effort and energy of his team as many times as he has this year and the results continue to be quite poor, it is clear that something is wrong. do not go. Really, a lot of things are wrong. Barring a surprisingly positive end to this Raptors season, a coaching change seems more likely than not.


The Raptors have regained stylistic diversity but still lack the necessary cohesion

An indifferent half

The Raptors didn’t have Jakob Poeltl to face Joel Embiid the previous times the Raptors had faced the 76ers. For this one, they did.

“We prefer to be on the aggressive side,” Poeltl said Thursday when I asked him about life with Embiid’s midrange jumpers, who have become more efficient in recent years. “Yeah, try to get the ball out of his hands. Let someone else play. But I think it’s just a matter of different mentalities. Some teams will say, “Take the less effective shot,” even if it hits by a very high percentage. Other teams will be more like us.

Poeltl understood the overall defensive mentality of the Raptors. And it’s on nights like this that you have to question yourself. In a 46-point second quarter, the 76ers scored on a dumb 19 of 21 possessions.

Granted, James Harden and his teammates landed plenty of tough shots, while Embiid was barely involved. That is good.

However, the Raptors were playing all over the place, especially with a bench heavy unit featuring Precious Achiuwa and Chris Boucher. (Christian Koloko took Achiuwa’s place in the rotation in the second half.) If you want to be this aggressive, you also need to be connected. Too often this year the Raptors haven’t been.

In the first quarter, the Raptors got caught not returning frequently in transition. Even after a Raptors field goal in the second quarter, the 76ers dunked, via De’Anthony Melton, six seconds later.

The Raptors have been much stronger since Poeltl’s arrival – entering the game, the Raptors had the third best defensive rating since the All-Star break. But much of that came against weaker defensive spells. When pushed, the Raptors can still crack. Their habits and execution leave much to be desired.

Raptors don’t quit – they double down

Nurse likes to say that if the Raptors’ aggression isn’t working, he often wants his team to lean into that mentality even more instead of pulling out. That’s what inspired the Raptors’ best game.

Nurse made it simple: if Embiid touched the ball, the Raptors had to send a second defender to get him off the ball. Some of the shots the Sixers hit in the first half just stopped falling, but there’s something to be said for getting a team off the pace by any means necessary.

The Raptors’ bets were also better timed, a product of a starting lineup that plays well together. In particular, OG Anunoby knew how to surprise the 76ers star. Anunoby switched to Embiid at the end of the first quarter, and the MVP candidate was relatively quiet from that point on.

It brought the Raptors out in transition, something they always badly need.

About this bench…

The Raptors’ main problem off the bench wasn’t the offense on Friday. But one night when they shot 2 for 13 of 3 in the first half, the absence of Gary Trent Jr. was felt. He missed his fifth straight game for the Raptors.

Bad news: The first four were because of an elbow injury, and he sat with back spasms against the 76ers. Trent has already taken a few games after getting injured to find his rhythm.

Now, if he comes back before the end of the season, he will come back from two injuries.

(Photo by Nick Nurse: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)


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