For all the X-and-Os that go into NBA coaching, the thing that separates the best coaches from the pack is the way they interact with their players. It's part of why Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse has been so successful over his brief NBA coaching career. Yes, he's a great strategic coach, but more importantly, he seems to know how to get the most out of his players when he needs it.
It's become a common theme throughout Nurse's Raptors tenure. One day he'll criticize a player to the media, demanding more from a guy usually for his lacking effort. Then the next game that same player who looked sluggish the night before will come out playing inspired basketball, looking like a totally different guy.
Knowing how and when to push a player's buttons is one of the hardest things about coaching. If you get mad too often, your players will tune you out. But if you stay too reserved, you'll never get the most out of your guys.
After Wednesday's 111-102 loss to the Miami Heat, Nurse decided it was time to start pushing some buttons.
"Coaches got on us in film, in between the games. And pre-game he was on us defensively," Norman Powell said. "He gave a long-winded speech before we ran out there for pre-game."
It was the kind of once or twice a season talking to from Nurse, Powell said.
"It was definitely warranted," Powell said. "There wasn't much talking. We said after that first session there wasn't much talking amongst the players. Aron [Baynes] came out and said it, we have enough lip service, we gotta go out there and do it and execute."
On Friday, the Raptors executed. After surrendering 18 3-pointers and 49% shooting from the floor on Wednesday, Toronto held the Heat to just seven 3s on 43% shooting in a 101-81 victory.
"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."
It didn't take any crazy yelling and screaming, Stanley Johnson said. It wasn't the kind of talking to Johnson has surely seen repeatedly from coaches over the course of his career. Instead, it was an emotional and strong conversation, he said. The kind of talking to that gets the most out of your players.
"That's why he's special," Johnson said of his head coach. "There’s only one Nick Nurse."