All in the family: Sergio Scariolo gets the win, game ball

by Chris O'Leary

He’s coached in an Olympic gold medal game and won a FIBA World Championship for Spain. A 32-year coaching career has taken him across Europe and landed him on Nick Nurse’s Raptors’ coaching staff in 2018, which of course resulted in a NBA title a year later. 

In short, Sergio Scariolo has seen some things in his long, storied coaching career. But he’d never had a night like he did on Friday. 

With Nurse and five of his assistant coaches forced out of their game against the Rockets due to health and safety protocols, Scariolo was thrust into head coaching duties. Oh, and a short time after that, the team learned that Pascal Siakam was also unavailable due to the same health and safety protocols. 

“Of course it was different. Especially because everything happened so fast,” Scariolo said shortly after the Raptors had downed Houston 122-111. 

“We had to readjust tasks, timing, schedule, so we had to go a little bit on the fly. But the players did a great job and the remaining coaches, the few guys that were left,” he laughed, “they were great.” 

What could have been a chaotic day that spilled over into a disorganized mess on the court turned out to be the opposite for the Raptors, who held a comfortable lead through the majority of the night against the Rockets to get the win and push their record back to .500. 

These tend to be the moments that can pull at the strings of a team. The ones that aren’t closely knit, that don’t have experience, they might come apart quickly. Friday night’s results speak for themselves. At the end of the game, Kyle Lowry made sure he tracked down the game ball to give to Scariolo. 

“Kyle is always extremely attentive to those details, the little things which really make a difference, to make a team feel like a family and like a group of people who are really taking care for each other,” the coach said. His game ball collection isn’t small, he admitted, but he said this one was special. 

“It’s a moment that you always have,” Lowry said. 

“You'll be able to go back and look at and say, ‘This was this moment,’ and you could pass it on to your kids and your grandkids and their kids and. It’s something that you'll always have in your family forever. 

“It's having an opportunity to say. ‘I did something special.’ And to just have Sergio get his first (win) ...he's been a head coach before but he had an opportunity as an NBA coach to get a win. That’s special.”

What made the night more special for Scariolo was that he’d just returned from the Eurobasket qualifiers after coaching the Spanish national team to a pair of wins. He went from FIBA’s bubble in Poland, back to Florida, quarantined and was cleared to rejoin the Raptors just in time for the game.  

“I think this is a subject for a book more than for an answer (to a question),” he said of what the past week had been like for him. 

He returned from the tournament on Monday, had isolated and was frequently tested for Covid-19. He was going about his usual special teams prep work on Thursday when he learned of the situation with Nurse and the coaches. The staff worked together over Zoom calls, texts and phone calls to continue on with their game plan for the Rockets. Scariolo took to the floor with Jamal Magloire, Jim Sann and Mark Tyndale and got some help from Lowry -- who posted a triple-double -- and Fred VanVleet, who scored 25 points in the win. Norman Powell added to his impressive stretch as a starter with a game-high 30 points. 

“For me and for Freddie and for our organization and everybody, we understood the situation,” Lowry said. 

“We didn't want to make it over-complicated and everyone wants to coach and everybody is talking and this and that. (The coaches) kept a semblance of what we usually do. Myself and Freddy, we're always coaching the floor anyway.”

“We've made it this far without this happening,” VanVleet said. 

“We saw at the start of the season where teams were down nine, eight guys. Games get canceled right before tipoff. We've seen a lot of different things happen. We've been fortunate to dodge a lot of those bullets and this is our one instance, hopefully, it's the last one where something unfortunately happens and we’ve got guys that are being held out. 

“If we win these games, nobody will remember this stuff. If we lose them then they’ll say, ‘Oh, my God, we missed everybody that wasn't there.’ It's our job to make up the difference.” 

It would have been a Twitter victory if Lowry or VanVleet had somehow ended up as a player-coach, but a combination of CBA restrictions (something GM Bobby Webster confirmed before tipoff) and the fact that Scariolo was present and available made him the logical choice to step in. The result was much better, in the form of an actual victory. 

Scariolo and his three assistants could be called upon again on Sunday when the Raptors host the Chicago Bulls in Tampa. If that’s the case, the players will be ready to roll ahead with that group. 

“Sergio’s a head coach,” Lowry said. 

“He’s a head coach, A-type personality. That’s just who he is. He’s very smooth, he’s very passionate about the game he knows what he’s talking about. 

“The one thing about Sergio is he’s really cool. He’s just that laid back, Italian, you know, hair slicked back, nice clothes, nice watches, that smooth guy. Him stepping up to the plate tonight, that’s nothing new for him. Now it’s just in the NBA.” 

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