TORONTO – Nick Nurse took a flyer with a 20-minute, rap-on-the-knuckles discourse before his Toronto Raptors confronted the Phoenix Suns on Friday.
His gamble paid off. Led by Gary Trent Jr., who matched his season high with 35 points, the Raptors responded with a 113-104 win to snap a two-game losing streak.
The Raptors lost eight of their last 10 entering the contest and after their latest defeat to the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday, Nurse felt his team needed to improve in many areas leading to the pre-game lecturing.
“It’s not the easiest decision in the world when you’re going to do one of those sessions,” Nurse admitted. “I think you’re rolling the dice a little bit, and it’s a roll of the dice that turned out.”
Nurse, among other things, told his team he wants more pace, better execution and increased effort.
“Part of it today was the technical stuff, doesn’t matter,” Nurse added. “It’s like 0.05 per cent if the effort isn’t there.”
The win in their final game of 2022 put an end to a dismal month in which the Raptors went 5-10 in December.
“The message was we’ve just got to play harder,” Raptors rookie centre Christian Koloko said. “We’ve got to play harder. We watched a lot of clips from the last game. We didn’t play with any effort.
“Today, we started the game, and we were really playing good defence. We were really aggressive. Everybody was doing a good job. Every time we play like that, we have a good chance to win games.”
But the outcome was still in doubt late in the fourth quarter. With the game tied at 101, Scottie Barnes drilled a three-pointer with 3:16 remaining, followed by a three from Koloko 1:27 later to give Toronto a six-point edge.
Koloko was an unlikely go-to guy on the play, but the Suns heavily guarded Trent and Pascal Siakam. Siakam found Koloko in the corner for his first three-pointer in eight attempts this season.
“He saw me,” Koloko said. “He ain’t got no choice, to be honest, because I think he had two men in front of him.
“I knew he was going to pass it to me as soon as I saw my man standing (away) from the corner. I told him after the timeout, ‘I appreciate you believing in me for trusting me on that last pass.’ It’s the end of the game, and I’m not put in that position every day.”
The win, before 19,800 at Scotiabank Arena, also snapped a five-game home skid.
Siakam chipped in 26 points, O.G. Anunoby had 16, and Barnes scored 11 for Toronto.
The Suns lost their second straight and were led by Chris Paul’s 20 points and 12 assists. Mikal Bridges scored 21, and Torrey Craig added 13 points.
The Raptors held an 86-79 advantage after three quarters. But Bridges followed up a three-pointer with a layup to give the Suns a 99-97 lead with 4:41 remaining.
Toronto enjoyed a 33-24 lead after the first quarter, only to watch the visitors go on a 12-0 run to begin the second and snatch a 34-33 lead.
But Siakam, Anunoby and Trent put together a 16-5 run for the Raptors to give them the edge with less than four minutes left in the first half.
The Suns, however, finished strong to ensure Toronto only held a 53-51 advantage heading to the locker rooms.
The Raptors were without all-star guard Fred VanVleet (back spasms) and Precious Achiuwa (ankle). The Suns were missing star Devin Booker (groin strain), Cameron Johnson (ankle), Cameron Payne (foot) and Landry Shamet (Achilles).
Analyst Jack Armstrong was recognized during a second-quarter timeout for his 25th year with the Raptors. The 59-year-old Brooklyn, N.Y., native has been part of the team’s broadcasts since the 1998-99 season.
The Raptors begin the New Year on the road against the Indiana Pacers on Monday and return home for a season-high six-game homestand, starting with the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 30, 2022.