Behind head coach Ime Udoka, Celtics sweep the nets in the first round


Ime Udoka leads the Celtics to the promised land.

Ime Udoka leads the Celtics to the promised land.
picture: AP

Ime Udoka is who so many fans – and members of the media – desperately wanted Brad Stevens to be.

Ten months later Stevens left Boston’s bench to replace Danny Ainge As the team’s new president of basketball operations, the Celtics, with Udoka at the helm, look like a team that can reach – and win – an NBA Finals after sweeping the Brooklyn Nets.

A few weeks ago, it wouldn’t have been a surprise if Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant & co. had upset the No. 2-seeded Celtics as the seventh seedling to make the playoffs via the play-in tournament. Durant and Irving’s tandem with the shooting of Seth Curry and the potential return of Ben Simmons was too tempting to ignore considering the Celtics have been “a year away” since 2017.

But that was during the Danny Ainge/Stevens regime. Under Udoka, this finally feels like the year of the Celtics.

“We got our whole team around January. We’ve always been right there,” Jayson Tatum – the series’ best player – said after the Celtics 116-112 win in Brooklyn. We stayed calm. we stayed together We didn’t lose sight of what we wanted to achieve. It was only a matter of time and we haven’t looked back since.”

It’s not just that Boston swept the nets, they did it. Aside from a phenomenal performance from Irving in Game 1 and a 39-point performance from Durant in the final, the “most skillfulIn-game duo were put into a cross-face chicken wing submission hold by Udoka’s defensive game plan. There were no alleys to penetrate. All jumpers were fought. And help defenders were always in the right position. It was like watching two lions mauled by a pack of gazelles. There’s strength in numbers.

Ever since Stevens burst onto the scene taking Butler to back-to-back national title games in 2010 and 2011, he’s been instantly dubbed the next coaching prodigy. He was young, smart and above all white. However, what people always forgot to mention about Stevens was that despite his “brilliance” on the touchline, he never produced anything of real substance when it came to winning the games that mattered.

As close as Gordon Hayward’s shot got to Duke, he didn’t. And when Butler returned to play for everything against UConn in 2011, it ended in defeat in a game so terrible Stevens’ team shot 18 percent from the field in a game in which they only made 12 field goals .

“Butler Really Plays Defense” said former UConn coach Jim Calhoun after defeating a team that had the worst shooting performance in national title game history. “I mean, they really play defense. And we really play defense, and I think at some point they reached our speed and length, but from a purist point of view, if you really like defense, clip that game.

That quote sounds like it should come from Steve Nash describing Udoka’s defense given how the Nets’ explosive offense has been calmed throughout the series.

“I’ve just been thinking too much, to be honest, this whole series.” Durant said after Game 3.

“I feel like I tried to be too aggressive in the first two games,” he explained. “A team that invites itself on me, that tries to take me out of all my actions. I felt like I was still trying to force the first two games and watch movies, a lot of my teammates were open and firing shots so I felt like my approach to this game was to play against everyone – to get into the flow of offense and let the ball move and find me.”

After drafting Jaylen Brown, falling into his lap Tatum, and acquiring Irving and Hayward through trades and free agency, Ainge’s greatest legacy was in Boston as a leader aside from assembling the 2008 team that gave the Celtics their 17th title brought in, maybe how much he left on the table given all the talent he missed. All of the draft picks Ainge had in store over the years never resulted in him landing the high-profile free agent he so desperately wanted Anthony Davis, Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden or Jimmy Butler.

However, this Celtics team isn’t about who they put in the roster, it’s more about who they hired as a coach. Ironically, Udoka just sent the same team that sent Ainge into retirement – and then to a position at the Utah Jazz – and Stevens off the bench. The changes, which took place in Boston at the end of last season, came a day after the Nets sent the Celtics home in five games after their first-round matchup.

If the Celtics continue to win it all, it will be because of who they hired as their head coach and how he took this team to a level the old regime couldn’t reach despite the valiant effort of Isaiah Thomas and his run in 2017 , the underdogs of 2018 who fell to LeBron in the conference finals, or the Tatum and Brown Celtics who came up short in The Bubble against the Miami Heat.

Udoka also has the happy story of the “Black Irish” on his side. Over the years, the Celtics have had five black coaches in Bill Russell, KC Jones, ML Carr, Doc Rivers and Udoka. Except for Carr and Udoka – as of now – the other championships won. They all have one, except Carr higher win rate in the regular season and playoffs than Stevens.

When Danny Ainge signed Brad Stevens in 2013 he said: “His teams always play hard and run at both ends of the pitch. Brad is a coach who has had a lot of success and I look forward to working with him on Banner 18.” Nine years later, it looks like Stevens is preparing to say the same about Ime Udoka. But this time it will be deserved.

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