Raptors: 2 Nick Nurse adjustments that keyed Celtics win

Oct 4, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse directs his team against the Philadelphia 76ers during the first half at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 4, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse directs his team against the Philadelphia 76ers during the first half at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

Maybe it’s the fact that 16 of the NBA’s top 75 have played in white and green, but there’s always something satisfying about Nick Nurse and the Toronto Raptors sticking it to the Boston Celtics. Even as Celtics victories go, Friday night’s win was extremely pleasurable to sit through.

For starters, the team was coming off an embarrassing loss on opening night where they couldn’t hit the side of a barn, but the way they won on Friday flipped that script on its head.  We didn’t win because our cold shooters got hot all of a sudden, we won because we made schematic adjustments and learned to win despite our offensive limitations.

Combining the speed of Nash’s Suns with the physicality of the Bad Boy Pistons, the Raptors literally beat the Celtics into submission on Friday night by forcing them to play their brand of basketball. The hallmarks of this scheme are insane defensive pressure, size, athleticism, ball movement, and mashing it in the paint.

Did they miss a lot of shots? Absolutely. But it didn’t matter. Scoring efficiency is undoubtedly important, but at the end of the day, the only number that matters is the big one on the scoreboard.

How did Nick Nurse and the Toronto Raptors defeat the Celtics?

Some of the numbers from Friday’s win just boggle the mind.

  • The Raptors held Boston to 39% shooting, all while taking more shots (100) than Boston (82).
  • Toronto had 58 points in the paint compared to Boston’s 32
  • Toronto went 21-21 from the foul line
  • The Raptors forced 25 turnovers and recorded 21 offensive rebounds
  • The Raptors shot 42% from the field and 28% from three

With those shooting percentages, you’d think the Raptors barely scored 100 points right? Wrong. The Raptors found a way to overcome that deficiency and prevail, and they did it through their game plan.

Nick Nurse and the Toronto Raptors made some serious adjustments.

The biggest change in team strategy was that we stopped trying to play like we were the 2019 Raptors. The team that won Toronto the title was a beautiful construction of half-court basketball with five shot creators on the floor at all times and a bonafide superstar in the middle with Kawhi Leonard.

Toronto has a new roster with different strengths and weaknesses. The key was maximizing those strengths.

The Raptors are not a good half-court team this year, at least not yet. If they try to play the same brand of basketball that won us the title three years ago, they’re going to lose.

The reason the Raps won last night was that they played to our strengths. They leaned on defense and scoring in transition, and that worked like a charm.

Say what you will about it, but the Raptors were almost forced into playing an egalitarian offence. There’s barely a moment when the squad hands it off to their main guy and everyone else stands around and does nothing. With OG Anunoby struggling at the moment, the Raptors have to create for each other.

That manifested in the way Coach Nurse used some of his key guys last game. Choosing to move Gary Trent Jr. into the starting lineup was a genius move. Why? Because he provides the two things that the Raptors need most of all in shooting and off-ball spacing.

Trent’s great skill is that he can put up 20 points without dribbling the ball once. He moves, he catches, he shoots. Done. It’s very Klay Thompson-esque. When aired with some improved defense and quality inside finishes, Trent was cooking last night.

Not that Goran Dragic isn’t also a great shooter, but he’s a point guard. He’s most effective with the ball in his hands. With him sharing the rock with VanVleet, Barnes, and Anunuoby, in the starting five, there were too many cooks in the kitchen.

The second change came with Scottie Barnes.

The scoring numbers are what jump out at you, but to be honest he may have just had a hot shooting night.  Where the magic really lies is with his play running the offence. Barnes has been empowered with more responsibility for creating opportunities for himself and others with the ball in his hands.

This is where Barnes thrives. Not as an off-ball cutter (though he has shone he can certainly do that), but as a point-forward.

In this game, for the first time, we saw this team fully lean into its strengths. We saw how fun and dangerous Nick Nurse can make this team when they get into a flow. And they proved that Boston’s star power doesn’t mean they can waltz to the postseason.

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