Kawhi Leonard had scored 10 straight Raptors points and the team was on a 10-2 run that had taken them from down two to ahead 103-97 with just over three minutes left. Scotiabank Arena was rocking and deafening, the Raptors were on a roll and just more than three minutes away from the franchise’s first NBA title.
That’s when Raptors coach Nick Nurse decided to call a timeout.
It’s led to a lot of “what was Nurse thinking” armchair coaching from fans and some pundits.
“We had two free ones that you lose under the three-minute mark, and we just came across and just decided to give those guys a rest, and we had back-to-back ones there that we would have lost them under the three-minute mark, and just thought we could use the extra energy push,” Nurse explained after the game.
It was a change instituted a season ago to speed up the end of games, teams can only use two timeouts in the final three minutes a game. That has led to a lot of teams all season long doing what Nurse did, taking a timeout just before the three-minute mark, needed or not, just to use it and not lose it.
But did Nurse not just letting those timeouts expire cost his team the momentum.
“At that time I felt that, like you said, he probably wanted to get us some rest at that moment,” Kawhi Leonard said after the game. “You never know, I mean, if we would have won the game, we wouldn’t be talking about it.”
Leonard nails it.
We tend to focus on results as fans (and media), coaches tend to think process. In this case, Nurse had his best players on the court and if he could get them extra energy for the final three minutes then they would be more likely to hold the lead and win. There’s real logic to that. Instead, the Warriors did their thing and got the win, so people turn to the results and say it was a bad decision.
Would Leonard have hit the jump shot out of the timeout he missed if they had not called timeout? No way to know. Would Curry and Thompson have missed those shots if there hadn’t been a timeout? Again, no way to know.
But Raptors fans want someone to blame, so Nurse is it.