Scariolo steps in to coach Raptors to 122-111 win over slumping Rockets

·4 min read

TAMPA, Fla. — After three decades of coaching that includes a pair of Olympic medals and a World Cup gold with Spain, Sergio Scariolo has his first NBA victory.

It likely didn't happen how he'd envisioned it.

With Nick Nurse, five members of his coaching staff, and star forward Pascal Siakam sidelined on Friday due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, the 59-year-old Scariolo stepped in to guide the Toronto Raptors to a 122-111 victory over struggling Rockets.

Norman Powell poured in 30 points, while Kyle Lowry had a triple double -- 20 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists -- for the Raptors (17-17). Fred VanVleet added 25 points, while DeAndre Bembry had 13 and OG Anunoby finished with 11.

Lowry grabbed the game ball and presented it to Scariolo following the win.

Victor Oladipo had 27 points to top the slumping Rockets (11-20), who've lost 10 in a row for the first time since November-December, 2011.

The Raptors announced that Nurse and most of his staff were out a few hours before tipoff, whlie Siakam was listed on the league's injury report shortly before tipoff. Toronto GM Bobby Webster said it wasn't clear at this stage if Siakam's situation was linked to the coaches.

"The NBA is being extremely careful here," GM Bobby Webster said. "It’s early in what’s going on here, so I think we’re all being conscientious and not taking any risks. ... We’ll see what tomorrow brings us.”

The fact the Raptors could go to the legendary Scariolo speaks to the depth of Toronto's staff. He guided Spain to gold at the 2019 World Cup, plus Olympic medals in 2012 and '16. He'd just come out of required isolation himself after coaching Spain in FIBA games in Europe.

“I don’t know how many hundreds or thousands of games he’s been a head coach,” Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said about Scariolo. “But it’s unique, and he acknowledged that much, especially under the circumstances.”

Coming off back-to-back losses to Philadelphia and Miami that snapped a four-game win streak, the Raptors started to pull away from the Rockets in the second quarter and, by the time Powell knocked down a three-pointer midway through the third, Toronto was up by 23.

The Raptors led 95-80 to start the fourth. Houston pulled to within nine points with a 13-0 run that straddled the third and fourth quarter, and then sliced the difference to just six on a three-pointer by Eric Gordon with 4:28 to play. That was as close as Houston would come. VanVleet's three-pointer put Toronto back up by nine with 2:27 to play and the Rockets wouldn't threaten again.

The Rockets haven't won since Feb. 4 at Memphis.

In a season rocked by COVID-19, the NBA has had to postpone 29 games so far for virus-related issues, but the Raptors had been lucky to have avoided any trouble until now. They're one of just four teams in the league that haven't had a game postponed.

It's unknown how long the coaches will be sidelined but, on the plus side, the Raptors only have three more games before the all-star break.

Assistant coach Jim Sann was on the Toronto bench Friday along with Mark Tyndale, assistant video coordinator/player development, and Jamaal Magloire, basketball development consultant. Webster said contact between Nurse and the bench during the game was not allowed under NBA rules.

The Toronto coaching staff was already shorthanded given Chris Finch left the team earlier this week to become head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Adrian Griffin, Jama Mahlalela and Jon Goodwillie make up the remainder of Nurse's coaching staff.

The Rockets jumped out to an eight-point lead on 52.9 per cent shooting in the first, but Toronto had closed the by the end of the quarter and trailed 31-30 to start the second.

Lowry was a perfect 3-for-3 from long distance in a 10-point performance in the second quarter. Powell's driving layup capped a 20-10 run that had the Raptors up by 11. They stretched their lead to 15 before heading into halftime with a 67-59 advantage.

The Raptors are back in action Sunday against visiting Chicago. Toronto then hosts Detroit on Tuesday before wrapping up their first-half schedule Thursday in Boston.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 26, 2021

The Canadian Press