Jaylen Brown smiled Sunday when he was asked about the role first-year coach Ime Udoka played in helping the Celtics to the conference finals with their 109-81 Game 7 win over the Bucks.
“Fantastic,” the forward said. “For a first-year coach, it’s almost — I feel like it’s unheard of. His level of poise, his level of confidence never changed. Even when we were down 2-1, or when we were down 3-2, you could tell, the look in his eyes that we were going to win this series. We just needed to handle our business and sometimes you can get in those moments and go away from everything, or start to make over-adjustments. And he didn’t. Like, we maintained our poise, we maintained our air, kept our confidence, and found a way to win.”
Udoka, who finished fourth in voting for NBA Coach of the Year, has been pleased with the way his players have accepted his challenges after a tough start.
“I’ve come in with a fresh set of eyes and perspective to seeing what we have, to see the growth and the possibilities,” he said. “So I’ve always been on them about that. But we have to go about it a certain way to get to where we want to get.”
It looked like the end of the second quarter would be rocky for the Celtics. Jayson Tatum picked up his third foul on a drive, and Boston unsuccessfully challenged the call. Then the Celtics had a chance to run out the clock before Brown took a shot with about seven seconds left, giving the Bucks more than enough time to rush the other way.
But Marcus Smart saved them with his defense — nothing new. He swooped in and stole the ball from Giannis Antetokounmpo, and was fouled as he fired up a deep 3-pointer with 0.9 seconds left. It was a bit reminiscent of the end of Game 3, when officials called a non-shooting foul when Smart was hit in the final seconds, Boston down by 3.
This moment wasn’t as significant, but it was a big swing to end the half, as Smart hit his three shots for a 48-43 lead at the break.
“It was big,” Udoka said.
Robert Williams wasn’t needed
Robert Williams was cleared to return after missing three games because of a bone bruise in his left knee, but the center did not play.
Udoka said the decision was based on being cautious with the fourth-year big man, as well as not wanting to disrupt the rhythm of a team that closed this series by winning three of four, the lone loss coming in the Game 5 collapse.
“It was on a need-be basis,” Udoka said. “Foul trouble, we need a defensive rebound at the free throw line or some rim protection on a specific play, we could use him. But at the same time, we won two of the last three without him and had a chance to win Game 5, obviously, so it wasn’t like we were desperate to get him back.
“We understand what it is and wanted to take the cautious approach, and if we needed to get him in, we would.”
Deuce’s national moment
Tatum’s young son Jayson Jr., or ‘Deuce,’ joined him at the podium for his postgame press conference. With some coaxing, Deuce leaned into a microphone and said what he was looking forward to most about the matchup against the Miami Heat.
“Um, I’ll go swimming with Daddy,” he said.