Nick Nurse steps aside for a night, and the Raptors keep on winning

Nick Nurse, load manager.

In a selfless move to give a guy he says has NBA head coaching chops a chance to practise them, Nurse stepped aside Wednesday night so assistant Adrian Griffin could call the shots against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Nurse has been telling us for more than a year that Griffin is ready to be a head coach and now he’s got a live game to show prospective employers.

He understands that a coach like me needs some reps at being a head coach,” Griffin said before the Raptors beat the Philadelphia 76ers 125-121 in what turned out to be a wildly entertaining if meaningless seeding game. “He knows my ambitions and he wants to see me grow as an individual on and off the court … He approached me with it and it just kind of shows what kind of character that Coach Nurse has.”

Griffin didn’t have a full roster to work with — OG Anunoby and Serge Ibaka sat out with injuries — and the Raptors didn’t do him any favours with an average shooting night, but he did get to make the substitutions and call the timeouts and the plays in real time.

“Just like when athletes and basketball players are training in the summer, there’s nothing compared to game condition,” he said. “You know, you can work out all you want, but until you get in those games and you get up and down the court, there’s a difference. And I think it’s the same way … You do all the training that you can and practise but it’s good to get those game reps.”

Griffin was under no pressure, of course, because the game meant little before it began and even less just after it started.

Indiana’s win over Houston on Wednesday afternoon settled the Eastern Conference playoff series definitively. It will be Milwaukee-Orlando, Toronto-Brooklyn, Boston-Philadelphia and Miami-Indiana in the opening round.

But still, it was fun.

“Honestly, for one night I felt like Cinderella, you know?” Griffin said after the game. “Had the glass slippers on and it was great. Tomorrow, back to reality, it was an awesome feeling.”

Speaking of the game …

THREE POINTERS

What great fun

With all five starters and a couple of other backups whooping it up on the bench, an unlikely group of Stanley Johnson, Dewan Hernandez, Paul Watson, Matt Thomas and Malcolm Miller closed out a great comeback to win on a Johnson bucket with about five seconds left and two game-sealing free throws by Watson.

The best part was watching the reaction of the bench with everyone on their feet, screaming and cheering and chirping the Sixers at every turn.

“One thing about our team, we all treat each other as equals,” Kyle Lowry said. “We all have the same goal and we’re on the same level.”

It figures …

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After much hullabaloo about the bench — primarily Matt Thomas and Chris Boucher — the other afternoon, there were some words of caution that maybe no one should expect that all the time from the backups.

As if to prove the point, Thomas was so-so, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was a nonfactor, and Terence Davis continues to be mysteriously out of sorts. Only Boucher played remotely well, with 19 points.

It’s not a huge deal because this is a seven-man team and someone will fill that No. 8 role in each playoff series but it does go to show you not to get all that worked up about one game.

Full-on Lowry

It was a tour de force from the point guard, especially in the first half.

He got three personal fouls in the first six minutes and had to sit down, which meant he had all kinds of pent-up energy for a dynamic second quarter.

He had 18 points in the quarter, got T’d up for yelling “and one!” while looking for a foul after a basket, goaded Philly’s Jason Richardson into a foul by surrendering to a less-than-mighty nudge with about 30 seconds left and finished with a three-quarter court dash in about 5.9 seconds to end the half with a layup.

(The technical, in all fairness, came the third time Lowry bellowed “and one” after a basket and perchance the refs were just tired of hearing it).

He finished with 19 points in 25 minutes and seems champing at the bit to get into some serious games.

Don’t forget to fill up the mailbag, right? All you’ve got to do to get in on Sunday’s fun is click on askdoug@thestar.ca and ask whatever’s on your mind.

Doug Smith

TORONTO STAR