With just three games left in the regular season, the Boston Celtics are gearing up for the NBA Playoffs. Unless something catastrohpic happens, the C’s will have home court advantage for the first round of the playoffs, and depending on where they finish, they could have it for the second and third rounds too.
Thanks to a midseason turnaround for the ages, Boston is one of the hottest teams in the league heading into the postseason. They have gone on a blistering 31-9 run since finding themselves three games under .500 back in January, and that run has changed their trajectory from a painfully irritating underachiever to a playoff team set to make a deep postseason run.
It’s a run that is tough to comprehend for a number of reasons, but Celtics fans aren’t complaining about it whatsoever. There are many people responsible for the sudden change of play, and while the players themselves certainly deserve credit for going out and executing, their first year coach, Ime Udoka, is deserving of his share of praise as well.
Udoka struggled mightily to open the season, and there was a point in time where his decisions were so bad it was costing the team wins. But Udoka eventually righted the ship, and the result is a team that boasts the best defense in the league, as well as a surging offense. Udoka has gotten praise ever since, and he should parlay that praise into a well deserved Coach of the Year award.
Ime Udoka fixed the Boston Celtics, and deserves to win Coach of the Year
What Udoka has done in his first season with the Boston Celtics is remarkable. For the past five seasons or so, the Celtics seemed like they were destined for greatness, only to watch things blow up in their face right when it felt like they were establishing themselves. There was a massive turnover of talent that saw names like Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and Kemba Walker, all come and go without Banner 18 getting raised.
The 2021-22 season felt almost like a rebuild of sorts once Brad Stevens transitioned from head coach to President of Basketball Operations. He quickly worked on clearing the team’s salary cap issues and revamping the team’s bench. There wasn’t a huge move for a third star to pair up with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown like many hoped, but there was more of a reset after a mightily disappointing 2020-21 season.
But as the struggles mounted early this season, it felt like this was the last chance for the Celtics to figure things out. Stevens couldn’t build a roster that could contend, Udoka couldn’t coach his team to win games, and the players on the court looked uninterested in winning. With an 18-21 record, it looked like Stevens could blow things up at the NBA Trade Deadline.
But then everything changed. Marcus Smart got healthy after a bout with COVID, and turned into the point guard the team needed. Robert Williams was moved out of the center position into a more free roaming role on defense, and quickly established himself as a top rim protector in the league. Tatum and Brown found the bottom of the bucket more consistently. The list goes on and on.
While the players go on the court and play, Udoka is the one who has to put them in the situations to succeed, and early on in the season he wasn’t doing that. But then he pulled back the reigns on Smart’s shot selection, put Williams in a different spot on the floor, and most importantly, he established roles for every player on the team. Without Udoka, the Boston Celtics are probably floating around the Play-In Tournament for the second straight year.
Udoka should 100 percent be a Coach of the Year candidate, and maybe I’ve got a bit of hometown bias, but I fully believe he should take home the award too. It’s not official, but the three finalists are most likely going to be Udoka, Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns, and Taylor Jenkins of the Memphis Grizzlies. Williams is largely considered the front runner, but I don’t think it should be as clear cut as that.
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While the results speak for themself, Udoka has largely taken a team that is basically the same as last year’s and turned it into a legitimate championship contender. Aside from Al Horford and Derrick White, who was a trade deadline acquisiton, who else on this team wasn’t here last season? They got rid of Walker, which certainly helped, but considering how often he was injured last season, he wasn’t the reason the Celtics struggled.
That’s what makes a good coach, and it should be the main reason Udoka is considered for the award. He took a team that was bad last season, and made it good this time season. Considering how good Boston has looked over the past few months, it shouldn’t even be a discussion if you ask me.
With Williams, the reason he is the betting favorite currently is that he managed to sidestep injuries to Devin Booker and Chris Paul, and still lead his team to the best record in the league with 60+ wins. And while that’s true, Booker and Paul both missed fewer than 20 games, and the Suns have only played four games where both Booker and Paul were out.
Yes, Williams has done a good job, but really the Suns won 60 games this season because they got familiar playing with each other after having pretty much the same roster last season, not because Williams did anything out of the ordinary to make them better.
With Jenkins, he happened to be the man in charge when Ja Morant developed into a bona-fide superstar. Morant has actually missed more games this season than either Booker or Paul, and Jenkins has kept Memphis in the second seed out West. In my eyes, he is more deserving than Williams, but that’s just me.
Still, what Udoka has done has been just as impressive as both Williams and Jenkins. He’s dealt with injuries (every member of the starting five missed time at one point or another), inconsistent play, and massive expectations in his first season, but it hasn’t mattered. Udoka’s handprints are all over the Boston Celtics midseason turnaround, and he should come away with the Coach of the Year award when it’s all said and done.