Of course, he is best remembered in this city for being at the helm when the Toronto Raptors defeated the Sixers in the infamous Kawhi Leonard quadruple-bounce game-winner in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference semifinal in 2019. That ultimately led to the Raptors garnering the Larry O’Brien Trophy that postseason. It catapulted Nurse quickly into the upper echelon among NBA coaches.
Now five years later, he is the coach of your Seventy Sixers. The team has underachieved since its loss to the Raptors in 2019. That just doesn’t seem to have that “it” factor when it comes to getting over that playoff hump that has been laid out before them. The team that fails to find a “go-to” player when it needs it most, despite seemingly acquiring a plethora of them through the years to surround this year’s MVP in Joel Embiid.
Now it’s his team, and where does it go from here? Nurse has been really good at having his stars shine. Leonard averaged 27 points a game in his only season with Nurse. But maybe his biggest asset on the coaching front is his use and growth of younger players. In Pascal Siakim, OG Anunoby, Gary Trent, Jr., Fred Van Vleet, and Scottie Barnes, Nurse has shown an ability to develop youngsters. Something that has been a little lacking in this organization.
He is a chess player when it comes to the game, constantly tweaking and adjusting during a quarter, a game, and a season. Many times, those changes come at the defensive end of the floor. With Nurse showing a tendency to favor different types of zone defenses. Is this a team, heavily sprinkled with veterans who have a lot of wear on 30-plus-year-old legs, that can embrace different defensive schemes? Are the starters ready for heavy minutes, as Nurse is accustomed to asking of them?
We can talk scheme all we want. But this should be a 50-win team no matter who the head coach is. Nurse’s biggest task is teaching a winning culture. One that is currently owned by conference foes like the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics. Until that happens, the X’s and O’s won’t really matter.