PHOENIX — At the start of this five-game Western Conference road trip the Celtics were staying afloat thanks to their defense. They left Boston just over a week ago with the eighth-ranked defensive unit in the NBA, but they have been a bit of a mess at that end of the floor ever since.
Entering Friday night’s game against the powerful Suns, Boston was allowing 121.3 points per 100 possessions over their last four contests, tied for 29th worst in the NBA over this brief stretch.
“Just some small details with personnel and coverages,” coach Ime Udoka said. “So, we feel like we had some slippage there for sure. Things that we had done well over the last 10 or so games … [We need to] get back to that identity, guard the way we’re capable. That gives us a chance every night.”
The Jazz have the top-ranked offense in the NBA, but the Lakers, Clippers and Trail Blazers are all outside the top 10, so it is not simply a matter of facing high-powered opponents.
“We have to get back to who we are,” Udoka said.
Brown misses fifth straight
Celtics forward Jaylen Brown on Friday missed his fifth game in a row because of a sore hamstring, but Udoka said Brown has had good workouts this week and is inching closer to a return.
“The acceleration and the burst and some of the things he’s doing in the workout look more natural, normal for him,” Udoka said. “He’s ramped it up the last few days. He’ll have another hard workout and see how he feels [Saturday]. But that’s a progression he’s been on. I’ve said it a bunch of times: Keeping him at 100 [percent], getting him to 100, him being able to play without a ton of restriction, is the goal.”
Brown strained his hamstring Nov. 4 during Boston’s win over the Heat. He was sidelined for eight games and then returned for five games before this latest setback.
Richardson in COVID protocol
Guard Josh Richardson missed Friday’s game because he has entered COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
Richardson, who played 30 minutes in Boston’s loss to the Clippers on Wednesday, has declined to answer questions this season about whether he has been vaccinated.
“I mean, that subject is pretty personal,” he said at the team’s media event Sept. 27. “I’ve kind of talked about what I’m going to do and what I’m not going to do with my my family and my circle, so I’m not really sure.”
Kerr next coach for Team USA
USA Basketball is expected to name Warriors coach Steve Kerr as its next head coach, according to ESPN. Kerr will replace Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who guided the squad to the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last summer.
Udoka and Kerr worked together as USA Basketball assistants under Popovich.
“He was a guy that we relied on heavily to do what he did there in the last few years,” Udoka said. “He has a great pulse on the league and the way he’s handled his team translates well to the USA with all the superstars and egos and all that stuff. He deals with it well, so he’ll be a great one there.”