Luis Scola's Experience Paying Dividends In Team's Success

Holly MacKenzie -

As Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan continue to elevate their games and push the Toronto Raptors toward the postseason, it’s the day-to-day work that’s paying dividends. Through an 82-game regular season it can be easy to underestimate the mental focus needed to show up every day. In a four-games-in-five-nights stretch, a 32-point performance from Lowry gave Toronto a victory against the Boston Celtics and a 3-1 record for the week. Most fitting, was 35-year-old Luis Scola exploding for 17 points in the first quarter.

“The old man, that’s what the old man does,” DeMar DeRozan said of his veteran teammate. “The engine runs well in the beginning. Scola, he’s like an old school Cutlass. He gets you where you’ve got to go, but don’t rely on him for any road trips.”

Although DeRozan jokingly ribbed the locker room’s elder statesman, a quick look at the team’s reaction and celebration of his hot-start against the Celtics shows how much he means to everyone in the room. As Dwane Casey preaches focus, he’s got a nine-year NBA vet playing his 20th season of professional basketball — Scola started playing professionally in Argentina at age 15 — echoing his words, while also sharing wisdom learned from his own experiences.

“This perception of this switch in the NBA, a lot of players and teams think, ‘When the time comes, we’ll flip the switch and I’m going to play well,’” Scola said. “It doesn’t really work that way. It might work that way for Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant in his prime. For 95 percent of the world, it doesn’t work that way. When you do things right every day and we’re ready to play and we approach the game the right way every day, hopefully when the time comes you’re ready. If you don’t do those things you flip the switch and it doesn’t work.”

Sitting at 47-21, and second in the Eastern Conference, the Raptors have done a lot right. They’ve survived DeMarre Carroll being limiting in just 23 games as he recovers from knee surgery. They’ve weathered Jonas Valanciunas fracturing his hand and missing 17 games earlier in the season, then missing the previous three games after suffering a contusion in the same hand. A road-heavy stretch to start the year helped the group get comfortable with one another and strengthen chemistry. A pair of lengthy, seven-game homestands proved successful as players protected home court and managed to avoid getting comfortable and letting focus lapse. What Scola is most pleased about it how the team is approaching each potential road block.

“We’re playing hard every game,” he said. “We’re playing well every game, and we’re preparing ourselves for something bigger. It doesn’t guarantee success, but it gives you a much bigger chance.”

It’s that attention to detail and professional approach that enabled the Raptors rebound from a disappointing loss to the Chicago Bulls with three consecutive wins.

“When you’re competing and playing at the level that we play at every day…you’re going to win a lot of games,” Scola said. You’re not going to win them all, you’re not going to play well all the time, but you’re going to win a lot of games, and most importantly you’re going to be prepared when the time comes.”

Scola is a believer in the importance of building the right habits and leaning into them when tested. As the team works to close out the remaining month of the regular season on a high note, what they will be able to do will be defined by what that they have done absent from the bright lights and cameras.

“I think when you do the right thing every day it kind of happens automatically,” Scola said. “It’s not easy. It’s really hard to do it every day. It’s really hard to have the physical and mental approach to be ready every day. That’s a hard thing to do. But the benefits of it, they’ll last longer because you’ve been doing the work for a long time. Those benefits are much bigger. You won’t break it in a [close] game, [because] it kind of happens automatically. You build such big momentum, such big habits, they just kind of happen automatically. It’s not easier, but in that day, that particular moment, it becomes easier because you have been doing all of the work. The other way is much harder. It might be easier throughout the year because you didn’t put in much effort, but when the time comes it’s much harder to get it going. It’s much harder to do the right thing.”

A year ago, Casey was dealing with a team that had lost its defensive identity and was hoping to outscore opponents despite repeated warnings that defence is king when the postsesaon comes. Thursday night he became the first coach in franchise history to record 200 victories with the team in a game where Bismack Biyombo recorded a franchise-record 25 rebounds. He was honoured with a standing ovation on Friday while Scola was relying on a lifetime of the right habits en route to his 17-point quarter.

As Lowry praises the elite defence of Biyombo and Cory Joseph and DeRozan jokes about the miles Scola has put in, the bulk of attention will remain on on the team’s two All-Stars. A crucial part of the team’s success lies within everyone in the locker room being okay with that.

“This is a team that we have a bunch of pieces and they all have their role,” Scola said. “We have two main guys that we want to shoot all the shots and do good, and they’re the guys that will carry us and we have a job to do, mainly our job is to make them happy, help them and be around them. There’ll be some games that go your way and there’ll be some other games that go wrong. The games that go that way, hopefully you have a good game and have fun, but the other games you just have to do your job and be okay with it. I’m completely OK with that. This is the closest way, the shortest way to win, that’s what we all want and that’s what’s really fun.”