Nurse loves JV, but will 'try to kick his ass' in Canada-Lithuania game
Canada's World Cup game Tuesday against Lithuania represents a reunion of sorts for the team's head coach, Nick Nurse. The Toronto Raptors bench boss is set to square off against his former NBA charge, Lithuanian national team star Jonas Valanciunas.
Nurse wasted little time in heightening the drama surrounding their meeting.
"I obviously love Jonas. But I'm gonna try to kick his ass tomorrow," Nurse said with a laugh, according to Lithuanian reporter Donatas Urbonas. "I don't know if there was a guy that I spent as much time with and had a strong, long relationship like him."
Nurse and Valanciunas spent parts of six seasons together in Toronto, dating back to 2013. The Raptors traded the center in a package for Memphis Grizzlies big man Marc Gasol midway through last season, Nurse's first year as the team's head coach.
Toronto would ultimately win the 2019 NBA title, while Valanciunas would ink a three-year, $45-million contract to stay in Memphis.
For his part, Valanciunas was reluctant to enter a war of words, dismissing his former NBA coach's colorful rhetoric.
"I don't look at it that way," the 27-year-old said of Nurse's comments, according to Urbonas. "For me, the most important thing is to win, not to kick somebody's ass. Either we play against NBA stars or players from Europe. Canada is a good team. It will be a tough battle."
Canada enters the matchup with a lot at stake. Following its loss against Australia, Canada must defeat Lithuania to have a realistic hope of advancing out of the group stage and toward medal contention. Tipoff is slated for 7:30 a.m. ET.