Udoka Says Celtics’ Winning Energy: ‘Has Become Contagious’

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics had a 27-point lead over the Utah Jazz with five minutes remaining in Wednesday night’s matchup at TD Garden. Yet, Payton Pritchard was defending like it was the last possession of a tie ball game.

The sophomore guard picked up a full-court press on Jordan Clarkson, sticking to Utah’s veteran ball handler like glue all the way up to the left corner of the court. Clarkson doubled back toward the wing as teammate Rudy Gobert came over to set a pick, but Pritchard slithered right in between them, not letting Clarkson get more than a few inches away.

Eventually, Pritchard forced Clarkson to toss an errant pass, which Daniel Theis deflected back to Pritchard, who then lobbed it up-court to Derrick White for a fast-break jam.

The Jazz immediately called a timeout, Marcus Smart rushed the court to give Pritchard a chest bump, and the whole bench engulfed the unyielding youngster as he returned to the huddle.

If there was any play from the entire season that encapsulated the infectiousness of Boston’s upbeat energy, it was that sequence right there.

“The thing that becomes contagious is their on-court play, and that carries over to the bench,” Udoka reflected Thursday afternoon at practice when asked about that possession. “If you see Payton doing well, Marcus is in there encouraging him, cheering him on. It’s trickled down - unselfishness on the floor has carried over to the bench. Obviously winning breeds a lot of that.”

The Celtics have won 21 of their last 24 games, and the common theme throughout that stretch is their unwillingness to let up. They’ve won a league-leading 14 games by 20-plus points, including four of their past five contests.

In the first half of the season, Boston had trouble maintaining large leads, leading to a handful of disappointing losses. Now, the opposite is the case; the Celtics build massive leads out of the gate and just keep pouring it on until the final buzzer.

The starting lineup sets the tone by erupting out of the gate and, as Udoka alluded to, their energy gets passed onto the second unit.

As one of Boston’s reserves, Daniel Theis can attest to that fact.

“Every first half, we come out every game basically 150 percent,” said the veteran center. “Like we’ve really been going after teams, and good teams. We’re consistent with what we do on the court, and it doesn’t matter if the subs are in or not, who is on the court, I don’t think the level drops at all.”

Having such collective positive energy makes each day more enjoyable for these Celtics, which seems to be correlating to their constantly improving on-court product.

“It’s fun coming into work every day,” said Jaylen Brown. “It’s fun talking, building with your teammates. We’ve just gotta continue to get better, and that’s it, man. That’s all we can ask for; just come out, give a great effort, play together, and see what happens from there.”

The way the Celtics are playing together and supporting each other has become infectious, and their energy is showing no signs of wearing off.

What a long way this team has come from the first half of the season.

“A big sign of growth is that everybody is on the same page,” said Udoka. “It’s become contagious and it’s trickling down. We love the energy overall.”

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