Cinderella Castle sits in the middle of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort. That’s about a 15-minute ride from the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex where the NBA is playing, but one coach might want to try to sneak in a visit before midnight hits.
Griffin took over as the Raptors’ head coach on Wednesday, when Nick Nurse let his lead assistant get some hands-on experience in the lead chair.
“It’s great,” Griffin said of the experience. “Tomorrow, it’s back to reality. But it was an awesome feeling.”
Per NBA rules, Nurse gets credit for the coaching win on his record, but it was important for the Raptors players to send Griffin home with a “win.”
Philadelphia led by as many as 16 in the game and 10 in the fourth quarter. But as both teams went to their benches for the entirety of the final 12 minutes, Toronto staged a comeback.
Toronto guard Kyle Lowry said the team showered Griffin with bottles and cups of water when he entered the locker room postgame, and players praised Grffin’s demeanor and preparation.
“It means the world. It means everything,” Lowry said of Griffin’s getting the chance to coach. “It shows the humility of our coach, Nick Nurse, to have the understanding to give him a chance to coach us on national TV and have his first opportunity to coach a team from the first tip to the end of the game. He did an unbelievable job. Hopefully, Coach Griffin is a head coach soon. We’ll miss him, but hopefully he gets that opportunity to be a head coach.”
Griffin said the reaction of the players was hard to put into words, especially those who have been with Toronto since last season.
“These guys, you go to war with them,” Griffin said. “We won a championship together. Highs and lows, you’re family. It’s like your brothers out there. I’m not too far removed from these guys. I know they think I am, they think I’m an old head. But I remember being out there on the floor. So I try [to] show them the respect that I wanted as a player, and that’s really helped me as a coach.”
Griffin’s coaching career started shortly after his nine-year NBA career wrapped up in 2008. He coached in Milwaukee, Chicago, Orlando and Oklahoma City before joining the Raptors and Nurse in 2018.
He said he found out hours before Wednesday’s game that he was going to have the chance to coach. As for his job, he said it came down to managing the game and managing the emotions early. Once the team withstood the punches from Philadelphia early, it was about settling in.
“It kind of looked like things were headed in the wrong direction, but that’s when you have to stay composed and keep your guys focused on the main thing, and that’s the next possession,” Griffin said. “Hats off to the players that came in. [Dewan Hernandez] coming in there. Stan at the end. [Chris Boucher] was fabulous. [Rondae Hollis-Jefferson] was terrific. It was a total team effort.”