Celtics Reaping Benefits of Udoka’s Nets Knowledge

The Boston Celtics were blasted out of the first round last postseason after being unable to solve Brooklyn’s superstar-laden puzzle. Little did the C’s know at the time that one of the main solutions to their problem had been sitting right on the Nets’ sideline.

One year later, Boston and Brooklyn find themselves in a first-round rematch. Only this time, the Celtics sit in the driver’s seat, holding a 2-0 series lead. While both teams face different circumstances in regard to health and roster construction, one of the main catalysts of the series has been the man who switched sides from Brooklyn’s bench to the helm of Boston’s coaching staff: Ime Udoka.

Although he only served as a Brooklyn assistant for one season, Udoka brings a wealth of Nets intel into the Celtics locker room, of which Brooklyn’s players are fully aware.

“Ime knows us really well,” Kyrie Irving said following a 10-point performance in Brooklyn’s Game 2 defeat – his lowest-scoring postseason effort since a nine-point outing in Game 2 of Boston’s 2019 Eastern Conference semifinals series with the Milwaukee Bucks. “You know, he coached on our staff last year, so I think he has some keys in the treasure chest that he's telling those guys.”

From inside the Celtics locker room, Al Horford can attest to Irving’s claim.

“It’s definitely a benefit for our group because he just has a good sense of the things that they want to do and how they want to play,” Horford said Thursday afternoon in between Games 2 and 3. “For us, it's just to kind of take that and blend that into the style of play that he wants us to play. We've been playing the same way all year, defensively, but yeah, that definitely helps.”

Game 2 was a prime example of Udoka’s stellar game-planning for the Nets, as neither of Brooklyn's superstars could find a rhythm against Boston’s physical defense. For the first time in their 55 games as teammates, both Irving and Kevin Durant were held to below 33 percent shooting from the field. Irving shot 4-of-13 from the field, while Durant shot just 4-of-17 in their 114-107 loss.

Rarely does even one of those guys have an off night, let alone both. But that's where Udoka’s past experience and attention to detail pay off.

“Just being around the league for a while, you get to know those guys, but you get to know them a little more intimately and when you're coaching them and being with them for a season,” said Udoka. “So, me being the defensive-minded guy, I think it's beneficial to be with those guys and see some of the things that other teams have done against them – ideas, I have my head. And just being around them, you learn a little more of the intricacies of their game.”

One of the tidbits he picked up while in Brooklyn was figuring out what type of defense works best against Durant. He noted how the Bucks had the most success against KD in last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals when they bodied up against him relentlessly, both on- and off-ball.

“The start of your defense is not allowing him to get it,” Udoka said of Durant, who has 13 made field goals and 12 turnovers through the first two games. “It's as simple as it sounds. The less touches, the better, obviously, but you have to understand they have other guys that can beat you out there. Trying to find that balance of showing him a body, showing him physicality, but not letting others get too loose … Last year in the Milwaukee series, PJ Tucker really got into his body, was physical, deny touches, deny catches. And so, those are things that have worked so far."

Udoka’s defensive mindset coupled with his inside info of the opponent has proven to be a critical solution to Brooklyn’s explosive offense early in the series. In flipping sidelines, Udoka has helped the Celtics flip the script, as they now find themselves two wins away from achieving payback.


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