Watch CBS News

Celtics Played Their Best Game Of The Year Thanks To Some Tough Love By Ime Udoka

BOSTON (CBS) -- Following a disappointing 1-4 road trip, the Celtics needed a little kick in the backside. Head coach Ime Udoka didn't have to yell and scream about the team's defensive deficiencies throughout the trip, and instead used some of his editing skills.

Udoka essentially put together a documentary of everything he did not like from his team on that West Coast swing, highlighting all the times that the Celtics let the opposition do whatever they wanted on offense. There were lowlights aplenty, and the message was received loud and clear. On Monday night, in their return to TD Garden, the Celtics bullied the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks on defense and shared the ball like a toddler trying to earn some extra brownie points ahead of Christmas. It led to a convincing 117-103 victory, the team's best win of the season.

"On both ends, I liked the vibe and the feel," Udoka said after the win. "When we have 31 assists on 43 baskets, you can see and feel the difference out there."

Boston basically forgot how to play defense on the road trip, surrendering just under 120 points per game to the Jazz, Trail Blazers, Lakers, Clippers and Suns. The lane was wide open for anyone who wanted to drive to the basket during the trip, and that lack of effort really irked Udoka.

So the first-year head coach's message was clear. No easy buckets going forward.

"We didn't like our lack of physicality. We talked about that and I said I'd rather you put somebody on their ass and get into it with somebody than let someone waltz down the lane," he said.

So on Monday, after giving up 30 points to the Bucks in the first quarter, Boston really locked down the rest of the way. Giannis Antetokounmpo was given no easy looks thanks to the wall that Al Horford and Jaylen Brown built around him, and was held to just 20 points off 7-for-14 shooting.

His supporting cast was held in check as well, and when it came time to shove a little bit, the Celtics stood tall in that department too. When the fiery Bobby Portis gave Grant Williams an extra shove under the basket, Williams let him know that he wasn't going to take it. It was a clear warning to the Bucks that the team that they scouted during Boston's five game trip was left out west.

The team that the Celtics have wanted to be all season took the court on Monday night, thanks in large part to Udoka's tough love film session.

"We've talked about it all year, our identity and who we want to be. And then you show them. We showed them film of [Russell] Westbrook getting down the lane and flexing and doing his antics, LeBron and guys basically moving out of his way. I had a very animated film session off that trip, showing all five games," explained Udoka. "Whether it was Donovan Mitchell in Game 1 or Phoenix in Game 5, we showed a lot of film -- 100-plus clips. Transition/isolation was one of the long sections, and I didn't like how we didn't fight at times.

"I put it out there and guys responded well, but there is no way to sweep it under the rug when you see five games of those clips," he said. "Where we ended up defensively, we didn't like it. We got back to who we are tonight."

If defense was half of what Udoka hammered home, ball movement was the other. And that was excellent for the Celtics on Monday. Boston's 31 assists were the team's high for the season in a game that did not require extra basketball. Marcus Smart led the way with 11 helpers, one of four Boston players with at least four assists. Nine players recorded at least one dime in the win.

Of course, to record those assists, guys had to hit shots. And with Jaylen Brown rejoining Jayson Tatum atop the Celtics hierarchy, the Celtics did just that. Udoka told Tatum to stop treating other stars in the league like his big brothers, and the forward responded by dropping 42 points. Tatum said after the win that he was glad that Udoka didn't "sugarcoat" anything in that film session.

"You're not going to win every game, but you can live with the ones you lose when you play the right way and you give yourself a chance," said Tatum. "Those last three [against the Lakers, Clippers and Suns], we didn't give ourselves a chance and had a lot of careless mistakes. He showed it to us, and we had to own up to it."

Brown scored 19 to go with five assists and four rebounds in his return from a hamstring injury, and Udoka credited the swingman for creating space for Tatum and others, and for his defense on Giannis.

"You could see his impact on both ends of the floor. He was explosive," Udoka said of Brown. "Another superstar, elite scorer. Teams can't load up as much. It was good to have him back."

One win does not turn the season around, not for a team that is 14-14 and has been wholly average -- at best -- for the majority of the year. Boston needs to put a bunch of these kinds of games together before anyone feels better about their status with the rest of the NBA.

But they improved to 2-0 against the Bucks with Monday night's win, and showed a glimpse of what they could be if they can just get it all together. And if they ever need another reminder, Udoka now knows that all he needs to do is turn to the tape.


View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.