As a second-year NBA head coach of the reigning champion Toronto Raptors, all Nick Nurse has known is success.
His resume speaks for itself: Four playoff series coached, four playoff series won.
And Wednesday was no different as the Raptors stayed a perfect 6-0 at home this season with a 113-97 win over the Orlando Magic.
But while the trophies and parades might obscure some of the hard work that goes into his profession, Nurse is fully cognizant of the other side of that equation. It hit home for him in the hours before Wednesday’s game when Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock was relieved of his duties.
“It’s very tough,” Nurse said. “Tough business and tough when it’s in your own organization that’s for sure.”
Having got to know Babcock a little over the years as stablemates under the umbrella of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, the owner of both the Raptors and Leafs, Nurse said the biggest coaching takeaway he got from Babcock was his work ethic.
“He liked to really work hard, practice hard and coach hard,” he said. “Believe it or not in this day and age there’s still a place for that.”
The Raptors had to roll up their sleeves at times on Wednesday before finally pulling away in the fourth quarter to register a sixth consecutive victory over the Magic, including the five-game playoff series win last season. And while Toronto remained perfect at home, Orlando has yet to win on the road this season and is now just one of two teams, alongside Oklahoma City Thunder, without a road victory.
Fred VanVleet led the way for the Raptors with 24 points and seven assists. The 25-year-old guard has now recorded at least five assists in all 14 games this season, the longest such streak of his career, and had a 20-point outing for the fifth time this season, something he did just five times in 64 games last year.
Pascal Siakam had his sixth double-double of the season with 18 points and 11 rebounds, while Chris Boucher had his second with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Arguably the most impressive offensive performance came from Terence Davis II though. For the second straight game – and for the fourth time in six games – he set a new career-high in points, with the 19 he had Wednesday just edging the 16 he registered during Monday’s win over Charlotte.
The 22-year-old undrafted rookie put his recent scoring streak down to just getting comfortable within the organization and around his teammates.
“Getting time with those guys, getting the reps in in practice and just knowledge from them and trust, gaining their trust as a rookie, it takes time and I think we’re starting to get there,” he said.
His coach rewarded him with 27 minutes off the bench on Wednesday – more minutes than were given to starter OG Anunoby – and Davis responded with a team-high three 3-pointers while going 7-of-10 overall from the floor.
“Well, I think we might be seeing a little more than we expected to see,” Nurse said afterwards. “That’s two games in a row the guy’s checked in and just started nailing threes right off the bat. He’s given our offence a big boost and they’ve been momentum changes I think in both games. I’m not sure I expected him to do all that.”
Siakam is certainly appreciative of the effort that Davis and others give off the bench, allowing the starters – with Siakam and VanVleet ranking in the top five in the NBA in minutes per game – to get some rest.
“He’s ready,” Siakam said of his teammate. “Open shots he’s going to shoot them, he’s going to make plays, they put him on the ball a little bit to make plays and he does that and then on defence he’s active. So I think that’s everything you could ask for from a rookie just coming in and understanding his role and doing it well.”
Guard Evan Fournier led the way for the Magic with 21 points, while forward Jonathan Isaac had a double-double on the strength of 16 points and 13 rebounds.
The Magic were forced to shuffle their lineup after leading scorer Nikola Vucevic rolled his ankle in the second quarter as he came down following a block and had to be helped from the court into the locker room. He was leading Orlando in both rebounds and assists at five apiece when he left the game with 5:29 to play in the second quarter and the Magic down 50-40. Fellow starter Aaron Gordon also sprained his right ankle in the first half and sat out the rest of the game.
As a result of Vucevic’s injury, the expected battle with opposing centre Marc Gasol never really materialized. Consequently, the Raptors were able to dominate in the paint, outscoring the Magic 68-40 in that department.
However, the Raptors struggled at times from behind the arc, which has been a source of strength through the first part of the season. Their three-point shooting was operating at just a 33.3 percentage on Wednesday, some way off the NBA-high 40.5 percentage the team was clicking at coming into the game.
However, Toronto saw its streak of fast-break dominance come to an end. Entering the game, the Raptors were the only team in the NBA that had as many or more fast-break points than its opponent, and was averaging 21.5 such points per game. But Orlando outscored them 16-5 in that department on Wednesday.
The Raptors could also get a timely boost as soon as Saturday against Atlanta, when Serge Ibaka, out since November 8 with a right ankle injury, could make his return. Nurse told reporters before the game that the power forward is ahead of schedule in his recovery. However, there was no update on the condition of starting point guard Kyle Lowry, also out since Nov. 8 with a left thumb injury.