After the Celtics were booed off the floor in their home opener against the Raptors last week, head coach Ime Udoka told his players the reaction suited their performance. After the Celtics lost to the Wizards at TD Garden on Wednesday, Udoka called out his team’s lack of intensity and focus.
Just two weeks into Udoka’s first season as a head coach, it has become clear he is quite comfortable speaking candidly. He does not mince words, and his approach is a bit of a shift after eight seasons of Brad Stevens, who generally preferred to place blame on himself or avoided rebukes altogether.
But when Udoka arrived this summer, the players told him that they wanted to be coached hard and held to a high standard. Now, they’re seeing what that looks like.
“They’ve been great,” Udoka said Friday. “We have a high-character group that understands and wants to be held accountable. And I think ‘critical’ might be a stretch. It’s just being honest and talking about lack of effort, and so that’s what I am always going to do. Let them know what I see and at the same time, look within ourselves as coaches and what we can do to help them be better.
“But our guys are resilient. They’re tough. They’ve fought back from deficits throughout the year and I’m just trying to really impart playing that way from the start and not letting a team outhustle you, outscrap you, and start to play [hard] when you get down double digits.”
Jaylen Brown struggled in Boston’s loss to Washington. The forward scored 13 points on 5 for 16 shooting, and generally did not appear engaged in the game. Afterward, Udoka said Brown’s mercurial start to this season was “mind-boggling,” as Brown mixed masterpieces such as his 46-point effort in the opener against the Knicks with uneven nights.
Udoka did not say it with a critical tone; he mostly seemed puzzled. But it could have been taken in another way, too. He said he and Brown have spoken several times since then. Brown, who recently recovered after a bout with COVID-19, had no issue with Udoka’s observation.
“It didn’t bother me,” Brown said. “It’s mind-boggling to me, too. I was surprised that my body didn’t respond the way it normally responds. I’m usually able to have that zip, that pop, flying up and down the court, but it wasn’t there. I think that was obvious. I don’t think he was out of line or anything for that.”
Udoka said the Celtics had a productive practice on Friday, an improvement from Wednesday’s pregame shootaround that led Udoka to tell his players they would get crushed by the Wizards if they did not focus. The team also had a lengthy film session, and Udoka said that the players were noticeably engaged. He’s confident this minor skid will end up as little more than a blip.
“You keep the big picture in mind, that it’s five games in,” Udoka said. “We’ve got 77 left. So it’s not time to panic or do anything drastic, throwing chairs and flipping tables or any of that. It’s a long season and I understand that, and the players do as well. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs through training camp and adversity early, and once we make it through that, we feel we will be on a good page.
“We’ve seen glimpses of it when we play well together offensively and defensively how it looks, and just trying to be more consistent with that.”
Brown said that Boston’s early stumbles have been the result of poor effort, and the good news is that can easily be fixed. The players are capable and the schemes are solid.
“We have an understanding of each other,” Brown said. “There’s a lot to goes into being with a new group, but at the end of the day we’re all men. We can all talk to each other. Issues can get resolved a lot easier that way, by communicating with each other rather than hearing about it in the media, etc., sometimes. Just communication as we continue to improve. Then we’ll be fine. Yeah, I think we’ll be fine.”
Marcus Smart will miss Saturday’s game against the Wizards because of a non-COVID illness. The guard said after the win over the Hornets on Monday that he felt sick earlier in the day and was dealing with migraines, but he returned to face the Wizards on Wednesday . . . Second-year wing Aaron Nesmith missed practice on Friday due to a non-COVID illness and is questionable for Saturday’s game. Romeo Langford, who has missed three games with a calf strain, is also questionable . . . Center Bruno Fernando was assigned to the team’s G League affiliate, the Maine Celtics. Also, former Louisville standout Deng Adel was added to Maine’s training camp roster.