Udoka COTY Case Made Stronger in Winning Back-to-Back COTMs

For the second time in franchise history, the Boston Celtics have a back-to-back winner for Eastern Conference Coach of the Month.

The NBA announced Ime Udoka as its latest recipient Tuesday afternoon for games played in March and April, during which the Celtics compiled a league-best 15-4 record.

It marked Udoka’s second straight month winning the award, making him just the second coach in Celtics history, along with Doc Rivers in 2008-09 and 2009-10, to earn it multiple times in the same season. Of course, that also means that Udoka is the only first-year Celtics head coach to accomplish such a feat.

Rivers, like Udoka, won it twice in a row to close out the 2007-08 regular season before embarking on a championship run.

Udoka is the first Eastern Conference coach to earn the recognition in back-to-back months since Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer did so in December 2018 and January 2019. Budenholzer went on to win NBA Coach of the Year following that season.

When Udoka won in February, the team’s main accomplishments occurred on the defensive end. However, for March/April, their most notable achievements happened on the offensive end, as they posted the best offensive rating in the entire league during that span at 123.4.

Since March 1, the Celtics ranked second in the East in points per game (120.4), assists per game (28.2), and field-goal percentage (50.4 percent), while also logging the East’s third-best clip from 3-point range (39.6 percent). In terms of advanced shooting stats, the C’s ranked first in the league in both effective field goal percentage (59.2 percent) and true shooting percentage (62.4 percent).

As for their defense, the Celtics continued where they left off in February. Since the start of March, they posted the second-best defensive rating in the NBA at 109.4. Combining that with their offensive rating gave them a phenomenal net rating of 14.0. No other team in the NBA had better than an 8.1 net rating during that same span.

The numbers are even more remarkable when taking into consideration how the season started for the Celtics. Through the first half of the season, Boston had posted a sub-.500 record at 20-21. Udoka then guided the team to one of its greatest mid-season turnarounds in history, as it recorded a second-half record of 31-10.

Boston went all the way from 11th place on Jan. 16 to finish in second place with a 51-31 record. Udoka became just the third rookie Celtics head coach to win 50 games, joining Bill Russell and Chris Ford.

“He's been amazing,” third-year forward Grant Williams said of Udoka at the beginning of March. “He's challenged us. He's been a guy that holds us to a higher standard. He hasn't allowed us to slip or dip in anything whether it's defensive intensity – he’ll call a timeout and speak his spiel and let us know exactly what we're doing and let us have it, and we'll bounce back and respond. So it's tremendous that we've grown the relationships, I feel like, over the course of the year.

"With a new coach, you always have to adjust to knowing the system. It was a bumpy start, but I feel like we're getting into the flow of things and just trusting great leadership from him and the rest of the coaching staff.”

Finishing in the manner that he did, in his first season as a head coach, nonetheless, makes Udoka’s 2021-22 journey one of the most fascinating storylines in the NBA. It may also help him earn an even more substantial coaching honor in the near future, as he has made one of the strongest, if not the strongest, cases for Coach of the Year.

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