As long as Nick Nurse is the head coach of the Toronto Raptors defence is always going to be prioritized.
Former Raptors centre Marc Gasol made clear just how serious Nurse is about defence last season after the Raptors shut down the Orlando Magic 109-99 in early August.
“In our locker room, if you don’t have the will or the discipline to play defense, it is going to be really hard for you to see the floor,” he said.
The message hasn’t changed this season.
It’s why the offensively explosive Matt Thomas and Terence Davis have been stapled to the bench for the past few games. Put simply, Nurse can’t trust them to hold their own on the defensive end.
“I’m disappointed in Matt. I’m disappointed in Terence,” Nurse said. “They’ve made way too many mistakes defensively. They’re our two best shooters probably but they’re just coming out and fouling and giving up boatloads of points in a short amount of minutes, and they can’t get that many back on the other end. So I’m still searching there.”
With Thomas and Davis unplayable right now, Nurse has opted to go deeper into his bench, giving significant minutes to Stanley Johnson.
“I’m totally leaning towards Stanley,” Nurse said of the competition between Johnson and Thomas for minutes. “It just has to balance out the rotation. I just can not keep sending out another guy, another little shooting guard. You know, we’ve got a whole slew of ’em, and I already have two really good ones that start and play most of the minutes, right? Stanley’s filling, we’ve got a gaping hole at the wing and three-four, and that is where he’s going. And he’s done really well. I think Stanley’s done a good job. And it’s the defense we need.”
So far this season the issue for the Raptors hasn’t been getting a lead, it’s been holding onto one. They’ve led by double digits in every game this season, only see the other team come storming back to erase that lead in every game. They, of course, beat the New York Knicks, but not before New York erased Toronto’s double-digit lead.
“I’m going to do my damndest not to get a double-digit lead tonight and see if that’ll get us to the finish line ahead,” Nurse joked. “When we start rolling, don’t be surprised if I try to… I’m just kidding.
“I certainly believe that it’s glass half full,” he continued in a more serious tone. “Listen, we certainly could have had the ball bounce [our way] a few times here the last three or four games and had a completely different record, but we don’t. So what you have to do is analyze the play, get to work, and try to fix things.”
The Raptors will have a big opportunity to get back on track tonight against the Boston Celtics. Considering Boston is on the second half of a back-to-back, Toronto should be able to pull this one out against a talented Celtics squad.