Celtics coach Ime Udoka made his NBA debut as a player with the Lakers in the 2003-04 season. But he was just on a 10-day contract, and none of his four games as a pro were against the Celtics.
So Boston’s game against the Lakers on Friday provided Udoka his first true taste of the rivalry. He said that Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens, who coached the team for eight seasons prior to assuming his new post, briefed him on what to expect.
“Buckle up,” Udoka recalled Stevens telling him. “The city is clamoring for this matchup all the time. It’s a historical one of years past, and he just said enjoy it for the first time you’re going through it. You and the players are up for it as well.”
Udoka said he and his assistant coaches talked about being a part of the matchup for the first time, but as a former NBA player and a longtime assistant, Udoka had kept track of it for quite a while.
“You see it from afar growing up for years, and to be a part of it now, you can feel the buzz around the city and our organization with the players as well,” Udoka said. “We all know what it means and for me, the first time going through it, it will be different when we step out there. But there are a lot of firsts this year you can experience on the fly. My thing is not to get too high on the game or a rivalry. It’s more so trying to get wins.”
Celtics forward Jaylen Brown on Friday missed his seventh consecutive game because of a hamstring strain, and center Robert Williams sat out for the second game in a row because of knee pain. Both players had been listed as questionable on Thursday night.
“[Jaylen] is close,” Udoka said. “He’s raring to play. We’re going to hold him back a little bit, myself and the medical staff. He really wanted to play tonight, let alone back home in Atlanta, but we feel he needs a little more time. He’s ramped it up over the last week or so. He’s not quite ready, but he’ll be back soon.”
Williams was a game-time decision, so there is a chance he will be able to play against the Thunder on Saturday night.
The Terrence Clarke Memorial Gym will be unveiled at the Vine Street Community Center on Sunday, a joint initiative of the Celtics, the NBA, and New Balance.
Clarke, a Boston native and Kentucky basketball standout, was killed in a car crash last April while leaving a pre-draft workout in Los Angeles. Clarke grew up playing basketball at the Boston Centers for Youth & Families Vine Street location. He later befriended Brown and was a frequent guest of his at Celtics games during his senior year at Brewster Academy.
The renovated gym will feature Clarke’s ‘TC5′ logo at midcourt, as well as refurbished basketball hoops and wall padding, and newly installed volleyball equipment. A quote from Clarke: “I want to be that guy for everyone in the city,” will be displayed along the sideline, and a memorial for Clarke has been constructed near the facility’s entrance.