Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse was about as grumpy as we've seen him all season on Friday afternoon. He wanted to make one thing very clear: the Raptors performance Wednesday night was not acceptable.
"We didn’t play hard enough," he said. "We didn’t play physical enough. Really poor communication. Really poor effort.”
The thing that makes Nurse such a good coach is he doesn't usually get frustrated in front of the media. Rarely does he call a player out publicly, but when he does, his team responds. On Friday night against the Miami Heat, they did exactly that. Even without Kyle Lowry who was out due to a toe infection, the Raptors put together an impressive defensive performance, holding the Heat to just 43% shooting in a 101-81 victory in Amalie Arena.
The past few days were about the lowest of the season for the Raptors. They got the kind of once or twice a season talking-tos Nurse saves for when he's really upset, Norman Powell said.
"Coaches got on us in film, in between the games, and pre-game. He was on us defensively and how we came out," Powell said. "We saw the film. We saw what we needed to do. We gotta be together, tied-in, defensively, for a full 48. Energy and effort on that end and everything else will take care of itself."
All that miscommunication that plagued the Raptors on Wednesday seemed to be cleaned up. They rotated well, surrendering just seven 3-pointers and 44 points in the paint.
"I think it’s a good two-game scenario that you got to learn a lesson," Nurse said. "In the NBA if you don’t come out and play, you’re going to get beat, happens all over the league. You can throw records out the window a lot. If you don’t come out and play, you’re going to get beat. And hopefully we learned a lesson."
With Lowry out, Powell stepped into the starting lineup and did what he usually does when he starts. He attacked the rim early and often then vaulted up to hit 3-pointers over and over again. In the first quarter alone he went 6-for-6 from the field with 14 points, finishing the night with a team-high 23 points on 10-for-18 shooting.
Powell has repeatedly made it clear that he believes he plays better when he starts because the rhythm and feel of the game is different as a starter. His stats would certainly suggest he plays better when he starts, but it isn't just about starting, according to Nurse.
"I think more of the starter thing, that’s obviously a legitimate thing but the first thing you’ve got to decide is who you’re taking out. So there’s always two parts to the equation," Nurse said. "The second thing is I think that’s his second or third [game] when we were missing one of our primary scorers and I think that matters.
"Twice Kyle’s out, he starts, once Pascal’s out, he starts and he has really, really good games all three of those and gets off to a fast start. Again, it becomes opportunity, it’s a different opportunity. All the balls that are flowing through Kyle are flowing through Norm, he gets to get his confidence, and gets touches and gets to feeling the ball really early in the game when that’s the lineup. It’s tricky man, that’s how intricate it is."
It was also a rare impressive performance from Aron Baynes, who logged 23 minutes for the first time in nine games. He looked stout on the defensive end, picking up two blocks and holding down the paint for extended stretches.
"I just thought he played Bam solid, I thought he rebounded pretty solidly [Wednesday] night and I thought we were in our coverages pretty good when he was out there [Wednesday] night," Nurse said.
While it's too soon to say Baynes has finally found his groove with the Raptors, Friday night's game was certainly promising.
Anunoby Finds Shooting Stroke
OG Anunoby has been red-hot from 3-point range lately and it continued over against the Heat. Coming into Friday, he had shot 55% from 3-point range in his previous four games. On Friday, his percentages jumped even higher thanks to a 5-for-6 3-point shooting night to go with four rebounds and 21 points.
Up Next: Indiana Pacers
The Raptors will get their first crack at former Raptors assistant coach Nate Bjorkgren when they take on the Indiana Pacers at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.