It really is quite simple for Nick Nurse.
He finds out who he is going to have available, figures out how he might best use them, makes adjustments as the game goes on and lives with whatever the result is, confident that has done his best to put everyone in a position to succeed.
It’s something he did for years in minor leagues around the world and something he has been forced to do in this obstacle-laden season with the Raptors. Thursday night was no different.
The stakes were higher and the absence of a player was significant — Kyle Lowry got the night off for rest — but it was old hat to the Raptors coach. And it almost worked again.
In crazy, close, emotional night, the Raptors may have been dealt a fatal playoff blow by dropping a 131-129 overtime decision to the Washington Wizards on Thursday in Tampa, Fla.
The loss may not mathematically eliminate the Raptors from the post-season but it will be a devastating one to rebound from given how well they played to get nothing from it.
Fred VanVleet send the game into overtime with a clutch three-pointer with 1.3 seconds left in the fourth quarter, splitting two defenders after taking a pass from Pascal Siakam to hit the dramatic shot.
Siakam tied a career high with 44 points but his last-ditch three-point attempt at the overtime buzzer missed and, with it, the Raptors fell four games behind Washington for 10th in the East with five games to play.
The decision to rest Lowry for such a significant game was an organizational one.
“How it's determined is we — being myself and Bobby (Webster, the general manager) and Masai (Ujiri, the team president) — talk about who we want to play and who we want to see and who we're going to evaluate, and that's what it comes down to,” Nurse said before the game. “And that's where we are with it tonight.”
It is meant to serve a dual purpose. If there is some miracle run to the play-in games, the Raptors will presumably have key players healthy and rested and young prospects like Malachi Flynn, Jalen Harris, Khem Birch and Gary Trent will have been put through the ringer.
Nurse, whose background coaching in various minor leagues with rosters that changed weekly, won’t complain about the challenges.
“You know me, I never get too awkward in these situations,” he said. “I just kind of want to know who's playing at some point before the ball goes up, and then we give the opportunity to these other guys, and we roll with it and do the best we can.”
Their best was pretty good against a Wizards team that had won 11 of its last 14 games. The Raptors’ two main threats — Siakam and VanVleet, with 22 points — did most of the heavy lifting offensively and the defence was solid for most of the night.
Trent came back after missing six games with a leg bruise to chip in 25 points while Birch had 17.
Washington’s Russell Westbrook had a typical triple-double — 13 points, 17 rebounds, 17 assists — to lead the Wizards.
- Bembry gets his shots: There’s something about the Wizards that turns the Raptors’ DeAndre’ Bembry into a three-point shooting threat.
Bembry, who was shooting 26 per cent from three-point range going into the game, made his first two of the night, equalling his season high in just 5 1/2 minutes.
The last time he made two threes in game was also against the Wizards, in a game in Washington in February.
- Hitting a milestone: Trent made his 36th start of the season — his 13th with the Raptors — and it triggered a minor salary-cap issue to be dealt with in the summer.
Trent, who will be a restricted free agent, now has as qualifying offer of $4.7 million instead of $2.1 million because he will have started half a season worth of games. It’s mostly a bookkeeping issue for the Raptors, who will surely pay Trent at least that much on a new contract if they want to keep him.
- New look: The Raptors started their 33rd different group, an all-time franchise high for a season.
They are not alone in having such turnover in their lineups: The Brooklyn Nets have used 34 different starting groups and the Wizards have used 27 combinations.
Doug Smith is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @smithraps