Nevius: Raptors kooky defense has Warriors writers living in a box

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OAKLAND — The chances that Toronto star Kawhi Leonard will have his own comedy special any time soon are remote. But he did happen onto a funny line in Tuesday’s NBA Finals press conference.

Asked his impression of head coach Nick Nurse, Leonard said:

“I guess a guy that thinks outside the box.”

OK, you had to be there.

Because in the mobbed media scene at Oracle Arena, a surprising amount of time in interviews was devoted to discussing how Nurse got into the box.

That would be a box-and-one defense, which is the kind of kooky formation that high school hoop coaches resort to in times of panic or need.

For those who have never seen it, it is simple. The “box” is formed by four defenders, who stand at the four corners of the free throw lane — two on either side of the hoop and two on either end of the free throw line. It is a 2-2 zone.

And the “one” is a dogged defender who literally goes wherever the other team’s star player goes.

Nurse, an interesting guy, decided to toss a box-and-one at the Warriors at the end of Game 2. With Klay Thompson out with his injury, Nurse figured he would try to bottle up Curry and see if the other Warriors could beat him.

We can discuss defensive strategy later, but you have to admit it was a gutsy move by Nurse.

Game 2. Fourth quarter. And you decide to try something off-the-wall. Impressive.

“The first time a team has probably played the box-and-one in the NBA ever,” Toronto guard Kyle Lowry said. “So you give Nick Nurse credit for that.”

And that’s what kicked off box-and-one as a prime topic for media day. Which, to be clear, was perfectly fine. If it keeps us from another day of asking if Kevin Durant is leaving, I’m all for the box-and-one.

Steve Kerr got the first “box” query. He was, naturally, already leaning into his punch line as the question ended.

“In ninth grade, a team played one against me,” he grinned. “Very proud to announce that. I had a box-and-one, just like Steph.”

And it was at that point that things got “janky.”

After the Sunday game, Curry referred to the quirky defense as janky.

Which caused Kerr to ask, “What does janky mean anyway?”

So when Curry arrived, he was asked for a definition.

“That’s a little Southern, North Carolina slang that I probably just pulled out of my back pocket,” he said. “It sounds right. I don’t really know what the true definition is.”

So someone googled the definition and said that it meant, “poor or unreliable quality.”

So there’s that.

Anyhow, Curry was asked the last time he faced a box-and-one, and he also knew a straight line when it was handed to him.

“I honestly can’t remember,” he said. “Probably the last time I saw it was when I had a Wildcat jersey on, though.”

Insiders, who know that Curry’s Davidson college team is the Wildcats, nodded knowingly.

But later, when Lowry was at the microphone, you realized how seat-of-the-pants this all was.

“Never practiced that ever. I don’t think I’ve ever run a box-and-one in my life. I going to be honest with you,” he said.

Presumably, most of Nurse’s other players were unfamiliar with the concept too. How do you convey what you want?

“Literally, he drew Fred,” Lowry said. “And he said ‘This is Steph. You have Steph.’ And he put me, Kawhi, Pascal (Siakam) and Marc (Gasol) on the board in spots and said, ‘Stand there.’ So, I mean, it was like, play defense.”

Nurse’s version had a little more campfire spirit. He said they looked at his diagram and Lowry spoke up:

“Kyle was kind of the one that said, ‘Yeah man, that will work. Let’s go,’ ” Nurse said.

Not exactly how Lowry remembered it.

“Sometimes when your coach draws something up, you just kind of go with it,” Lowry said. “It is what it is. Coach says, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ And we did it.”

Whatever.

But here is the truly hilarious part about all this.

It worked. The box-and-one shut down the Warriors’ offense at the end of the game. The Raptors chased Curry everywhere and hoped the other Warriors wouldn’t hit a shot.

Or, it almost worked. The Raptors lost. But if Andre Iguodala (one of those “other” Warriors) hadn’t hit that dagger 3 …

“It was very effective,” Kerr said Tuesday. “The key with the zone — or any janky defense for that matter (he honestly can’t help himself with the one-liners) — is it just changes the rhythm. The rhythm changed and the look changed. And so it was very effective.”

And will it be huge for Game 3? Probably not. We will probably be on to other things.

But it is a good example of what happens when you think outside the box.

Contact C.W. Nevius at cw.nevius@pressdemocrat.com. Twitter: @cwnevius.

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