NBA D-League Playoffs: Nick Nurse on Iowa Energy's Strategy for Game 3
Stinson, a 6-foot-3 point guard out of Iowa State, has averaged an otherworldly 22 points, 11.6 rebounds and 8.4 assists in over 44 minutes of action while proving that he deserved the recent recognition of being named to the Gatorade All-NBA Development League first team.
Even after Stinson was limited (in production, not minutes) in the second half of Game 2 with an ankle injury, Nurse knows he'll need just as much, if not more, than he's been getting out of the only starting lineup stalwart for Iowa this season.
"Curt's OK. He's not great but he's OK -- he definitely won't be 100 percent tonight," Nurse told me this afternoon on his way to tonight's game. "He's had some sort of ankle issue most of the playoffs, but he's tough and manages to get through with it."
Typically when the most productive player on the team is battling injuries they would look to someone else, but Stinson has been Iowa's lifeblood over the course of the past two seasons and Nurse sees no reason to change that tonight.
"He's gonna have to do his thing - which is a lot," Nurse explained. "He provides us some offense, his rebounding has been great as we've went smaller and smaller this season and his assist numbers need to be up. [His reduced assists are] not his fault, but it's just that our shooting is down. I'm hoping to see him give the total effort like he's done all season."
The assist category is the only one of the three major categories that Stinson isn't averaging double figures, so it makes sense that Nurse would point to that being an area he needs to improve. It also goes to show just how important Stinson is to the Energy that he's averaging eight-plus assists and it's still considered an area for improvement.
For Stinson to pick up more assists tonight to get him closer to the 10.9 helpers he averaged this season, the Energy will have to pick up the shooting as Nurse said. Iowa's perimeter threats, Jeff Trepagnier and Pat Carroll, have made just five of their 24 three-point attempts in this series. They haven't fared much better inside the arc, either, as neither is shooting above 30% from the field.
"I think anybody, to shoot better, needs to get better looks, easier looks -- anything to get a couple in the basket early. However they need to do it, they need to get in a rhythm early," Nurse said. "Really, they have to take some higher percentage shots to shoot a higher percentage."
While Iowa's focusing on getting better offensive production, they'll have to limit Tulsa, as well. Tulsa scored 77 second-half points after trailing 53-40 at halftime to force tonight's decisive Game 3.
"I thought, first of all, that they played really well last game," Nurse said. "They have some good players that had to take backseats during the season to assignments, but guys like Cecil Brown and Moses Ehambe are both good, solid players that are getting a chance now without the NBA guys there."
The assignments Nurse alluded to were Oklahoma City's trio of Mustafa Shakur, Kyle Weaver and Byron Mullens. All three suited up for Tulsa on and off during the regular season as well as Game 1 of this series before rejoining the Thunder for the playoff run.
"In Game 2 we broke down defensively and they started making some shots that were really our fault," Nurse said when asked how to stop the perimeter attack that saw Tulsa make 14-of-25 from beyond the arc. "Even when we eventually were guarding, and even flying at them, they were shooting it like they were open because we let them get into a rhythm."
Nurse has a pretty simple game plan, in theory, when asked what will be needed for the Energy to advance to the finals.
"We need a consistent defensive effort. That's what we relied on all season and it needs to come up big tonight," Nurse stressed. "Momentum changes quick in this league. You can't let the other team pick up any steam because that'll change the game fast.
"It's going to be a hell of a game between two teams that are really determined. Whoever wins tonight will deserve a chance in that championship series because both teams have played very hard."