“We need to get him to work for touch” – The Athletic

It was December 2019, and if he hadn’t already, Nick Nurse was about to earn his reputation as a mad scientist among NBA coaches.

The box-and-1 had done a lot to solidify that idea, but this could have been his Mona Lisa. When he came to a game in Toronto on December 5, James Harden had at least 30 points in 17 of his 18 games. This stretch spanned 10 games of over 40 points and peaked when he scored 110 points in the previous two games. Harden had found a way to turn poor shooting nights into efficient performances — on Dec. 3 against San Antonio, he shot just 11-37 from the field but scored 50 points by taking 24 clean throws without a miss.

The Nurse’s Plan: Have Fred VanVleet, who was nominally guarding Russell Westbrook, hit Harden every time the superstar crossed halfway across the court. Harden would not compete against Nurse’s Raptors.

“Yes, if I remember correctly, it didn’t end very well,” Nurse said on Friday.

It’s true. The Raptors held Harden to just 23 points and three assists, but the Rockets hit 22 3-pointers in a 119-109 win. Whatever it’s worth, Harden, who had a 36.5 usage percentage this year, used 16.3 percent of possession that game — a slightly larger slice of the offensive pie than PJ Tucker.

“It didn’t go so well. Thanks for reminding me,” said Nurse. “If I recall, it kind of led to him having five or eight 50-point games in a row. “We need to get him to work for touch” – The Athletic

Olly Dawes

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