It figures that in these instantaneous times, when it takes only a click or two on a keyboard to let the world know what’s going on, that basketball strategy would have taken a hit.
What might be surprising one minute is old hat a few minutes later, and that’s the kind of cat-and-mouse strategic game Raptors coach Nick Nurse is looking forward to when the NBA playoffs begin in a month or so.
He’s got some minor surprises he expects to spring on whichever first-round opponent the Raptors draw but he knows they might very well be one-time things.
“It’s like you put a couple things in and you may get a basket and then at halftime they aren’t working anymore because the team’s adjusted, and you’re back to doing it again for the next game, and all that stuff,” Nurse said. “That’s the beauty of the seven-game series.”
There have been a few things Nurse has tried in games just to give his players a chance to work on them at full speed, knowing that they won’t remain a secret too long because of the amount of scouting NBA teams do.
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For instance, on the final possession of regulation time in game in Detroit two weeks ago, the Raptors run a play that no one would have seen before, with two players setting screens to get Marc Gasol an open corner three-point attempt after a brilliant cross-court pass from Kyle Lowry.
But having used it once means every team knows it is in Toronto’s arsenal know and Nurse isn’t likely to run it out again. Still, his team got a chance to work on it at full game speed, it was successful even if the shot didn’t go in, and the Raptors will keep it squirreled away to perhaps use in one specific late-game playoff situation.
“I guess you’ve got to try to sneak a look at a few things, and if you don’t do it 15 times, maybe you only do it once or twice, then at least you’ve gotten a look,” he said. “I would imagine we’re going get to the playoffs and be running almost entirely different things than we’re running now.”
How entirely different may not be discernible to casual fans but even the slightest change could provide a one-possession advantage that might alter the flow of the game. It could be as simple as the name of a play call or where the players are positioned on the court but, if it’s new, it might work.
Having a veteran team with high IQ players like the Raptors do makes it easier to make those tiny changes.
“I think we’ve tried to play pretty free and easy, and all I’m really changing is what we call our starts or our triggers,” the coach said. “So the formations will look different with different guys, and just kind of get it started and then we’ve got to figure it out anyway. So it’s not a big deal, I don’t think. But it’ll be different.”
And it’s not just opposing coaches and advanced scouts who work at digging out subtle changes, although Nurse did tell a story about running a play for the first time and then watching the Los Angeles Lakers run basically the same set a day or two later because his old buddy and Lakers assistant Jesse Mermuys had copied it.
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“It’s not even that, it’s like, there’s social media,” Nurse said. “If a play’s run, there’s a whole subculture of coaches that are putting stuff on YouTube.
“You know, ‘Hey here’s the Toronto Raptors playbook last week.’ That stuff, you don’t even have to work that hard to find it, you can just Google ‘Raptors whatever’ and you’ve got it.”
Doug Smith is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @smithraps