To me, the toughest team to beat is the one that shows great composure. The loud, emotional, energetic team that was constantly talking never worries me as much, because I feel over 40 minutes that type of emotional investment is hard to maintain. With all of the ups and downs that happen in a game, especially a big one, the emotional swings can be hard to deal with. The team that shows maturity and mental balance, to me, has always been harder to beat.
The most impressive thing I’ve seen about the Toronto Raptors this post-season is their composure. Composure usually isn’t something that stands out because by definition it’s not loud. But when you see a team with a rookie head coach in their first ever NBA Finals doing what the Raptors are doing, you take notice. And it might be what they aren’t doing that says the most about who they are.
They aren’t celebrating, they aren’t showboating, they aren’t really showing much raw emotion – all in the most emotional series these guys will ever play in, on the biggest stage. They are simply ruthlessly going about their business – they are efficient, connected and engaged. They move on to the next play as well as any team you will see. It’s refreshing, and almost startling, to see them score big basket after big basket, hear the crowd react, and see 5 guys just turn around and get back on defense. They are calculated and prepared, and the expect success. Pretty impressive for a group and a coach that has never been there.
I’m not against showing emotion. I’m not one of these old school believers who thinks you should put your head down and be a robot. The game is intense and emotional, and for a lot of people it makes sense to play that way. I don’t think the Raptors are unemotional. But I do think they are handling the emotion of the game at an elite level, and that’s the key to showing great poise and composure.
The key to showing great composure is the coach. Your players are going to take on your personality, especially in big spots. Obviously the players have a lot to do with it as well. I think Kawhi’s personality has a huge impact on his teammates, without question. But I still think most players are going to take their cues from the head coach on a daily basis, and will react to things in ways the head coach deems acceptable.
How you react as a coach in practice goes a long way towards building composure as a team. Good or bad, if your players see constant emotion in the way you react, they are going to internalize those cues. If you react to every shot, every turnover and every decision with outward emotion, it’s going to affect your kids. If you explode every time you think there’s a bad call made against your team, your kids will start to get emotional as well. The question you have to ask is how much emotion do you want them to see out of you, and what impact is it going to have.
Good or bad, I never want my kids to think I’m going to react to the result. If we execute perfectly and knock down a great look, I want them to think that’s what was supposed to happen. If we turn the ball over or blow a defensive assignment and give up a hoop, I want them to feel like we are going to be okay. The other team is trying to win too. I want my team to be calm and composed, and to stay balanced throughout the game, so I make sure they see that from their head coach.
Nick Nurse is doing an unbelievable job with this team, that goes without saying. I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine in November about naming every coach in the NBA, and we honestly couldn’t even name Nick Nurse without looking him up. He’s literally put together on of the all-time great coaching seasons in the history of the sport in his first year.
But what I’m so impressed with is the composure he’s been able to instill into his team. They are in the first championship series for the entire country of Canada, and they look like the Spurs trying to win their 5th championship. The level of composure they are showing is not common, but it’s a key ingredient to championship teams.