Raptors star forward Pascal Siakam, head coach Nick Nurse and five assistant coaches were unavailable for Toronto’s game 122-111 win over the Houston Rockets on Friday night in Tampa, Florida, due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols, the team announced.
Veteran assistant Sergio Scariolo, who has coached at multiple high-level European clubs — including Real Madrid — and has been the Spanish national team’s coach for more than a decade, coached the team in Nurse’s absence.
“Obviously we have had him here for a few years and the experience he brings, not only what he’s done in the NBA but as an international head coach, whether it was in Europe or as a national team head coach,” general manager Bobby Webster said of Scariolo’s experience before Friday’s game. “Designating Sergio was not a difficult decision for us.”
The Raptors, who have rebounded from a 2-8 start to get back into the playoff picture in the East, now have to deal with most of their coaching staff and one of their best players being sidelined for an undetermined amount of time.
Before the game, Webster wasn’t divulging much, saying there would be four assistants on the bench with Scariolo without specifying who.
In some ways, the Raptors were fortunate Scariolo was able to coach the team at all. Unlike the rest of the coaches, who had been together with the Raptors in recent days, Scariolo had been with the Spanish national team coaching in Eurobasket qualifiers, and returned to Tampa in recent days to quarantine before being allowed back around the team.
Scariolo’s quarantine ended Friday — just in time for him to step into coaching his first NBA game.
“I just joked with him that the last team he coached he was the head coach,” Webster said with a smile. “I said, ‘You should be ready for this.’ But you guys know his résumé. I don’t know how many hundreds or thousands of games he’s been a head coach, but it’s unique and he acknowledged that much as far as the NBA game and, obviously, under the circumstances.
“So we look forward to it, and I think it’ll be a new challenge for him, but I think everybody’s ready for it.”
Toronto was already down an assistant coach after Chris Finch was hired by the Minnesota Timberwolves to replace Ryan Saunders as their head coach Monday. The Raptors last played Wednesday, when they lost in Miami to the Heat. They lost to the Philadelphia 76ers at home on Tuesday.
Webster said that the off day Thursday, after playing a back-to-back, wound up being fortunate.
“Yesterday being an off day was actually beneficial because there was nothing scheduled,” Webster said. “So once this became an issue, there wasn’t a ton of conversations about yesterday. It was more about the days prior. That’s when you go back and think about actions and where people were.”
As for Siakam, Webster said the team was still in fact-finding mode about how long he’d be out. Chris Boucher started in Siakam’s place against Houston.
“We don’t know yet,” Webster said when asked if Siakam’s absence was related to the coaches being out. “So I think, obviously, the NBA is being extremely careful here. It’s early in what’s going on here, so I think we’re all being conscientious and not taking any risks, so I think that’s more of what’s going on. But, you know, TBD, we’ll see what tomorrow brings us as we’re all diligently getting tested and awaiting the results every day.”
Toronto, which is one of four teams — along with the LA Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets — to not have a game postponed yet, will keep that streak going Friday night despite having most of its coaches sidelined. But Webster said that, ultimately, the amount of testing that teams are doing was the determining factor in the NBA’s decision to allow the game to continue.
“That’s obviously not our call, but we spoke to the NBA,” Webster said of potentially postponing Friday’s game. “One way to think about it is, we get tested twice in the morning, and so if those tests come back negative, that kind of gives you the clearance to participate in activities that day, and then you can even do some testing later in the day if you’re concerned about it. I think once the negative tests came back this afternoon, I think that gave the NBA the comfort that at least for today, we’re clear.”
Toronto is spending this season in Tampa because of border restrictions and quarantine requirements for those entering Canada. The Raptors also had to spend extra time in Florida ahead of the NBA’s bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, last summer for the same reason.