Boston Celtics first-year coach Ime Udoka knows a hectic race through the Eastern Conference playoffs is not enough to cement his young team’s place in the history of the one-story NBA franchise.
“Yeah, if we go to the finals to lay eggs, not everything will happen, and we understand that,” Vodoka told the Golden State Warriors after the Celtics beat the Miami hits 100-96 in the East Final Seven game.
Stimulated by young stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and anchored by veterans Marcus Smart and Al Harford, the Celtics begin play-offs with a four-game sweep of a star-studded Brooklyn Nets team led by two-time NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant.
They covered the distance before sending home the top pick hits in the next series with a seven-game win over Giannis Antetocunampo and defending champions Milwaukee Box.
That may be an impressive thing, but the 44-year-old Udoka Chenen Celtics franchise, whose 17 NBA titles are tied with the most Los Angeles Lakers in history, claims more.
“The guys are quick to celebrate but turn the page and say we’ve got four more,” Vodoka said. “We do not hang or celebrate the Eastern Conference Championship at the Celtic organization.
“So we all read the line and appreciate that standard of excellence.”
Vodoka, like his Golden State opponent Steve Kerr, once played for Greg Popovich at the Spurs in San Antonio and was an assistant coach under Popovic when the Spurs won the NBA title in 2014.
But his first season as head coach does not seem to be heading for a title tilt when the Celtics were below .500 in the middle of the season and Vodka does not seem to be helping the situation of public criticism of his young stars.
“Throughout the season there have certainly been some difficult moments where (you) don’t doubt yourself but maybe the question is, can we do it?” Dr. Tatum. “You begin to realize how difficult it is to win. You start asking yourself – are you good enough to be that guy? “
Smart said Udoka’s hard-nosed approach has, in fact, inspired the Celtics, who have used a powerhouse defense to overcome other shortcomings.
“(He) embodies everything we embody,” Smart said. “It simply came to our notice then. And if you don’t like it, you can get out of here. “
‘Ready for the Challenge’
Vodka said he never doubted the Celtics would react, despite the long-standing uncertainty of the injury and the Covid epidemic that dogged all teams at the start of the season.
“To get to this point we had to flip the switch and turn around in many ways, and it was always acceptable for the boys to be tough coaches, to push, to be told to do more,” he said.
“And it shows that the (being) character is being pressured to grow and take the next step. Our focus is on four more.”
Udoka has a chance to become the 10th coach to win a title in his first season – a list also includes Kerr who won the Warriors crown in 2015.
The two teams have split their two regular-season games, but apparently, the Celtics have kept the Warriors below 100 points in both.
“Very confident going inside,” Vodoka said. “We know it’s a high level team, the executive team, there’s a lot of great shooters, there’s great players overall, I know better and we’re ready for the challenge.”
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