Ime Udoka hasn’t had the easiest of starts to his tenure as head coach of the Boston Celtics after watching his team struggle out of the gate. However, with two wins in their last two games, things seem to be turning around, in large part thanks to their defense.
During the second quarter of the Celtics’ recent victory over the Miami Heat, the team’s defense held Miami to just three points over almost seven minutes, as the Celtics embarked on a 25-3 run to help close out the first half. Interestingly, Udoka went with a younger bench rotation than what he usually leans on, partly due to Josh Richardson missing the game with an injury.
The bench rotation went four deep and was comprised of three young talents in Grant Williams, Romeo Langford, and Aaron Nesmith alongside Dennis Schroder. All of them provided solid production both offensively and defensively.
“I mean, it just adds to the offensive repertoire, basically. Those guys that were playing well weakened five minutes for the starters, especially in a back-to-back, and at times we would have bought Jayson back in at a point. We went with the young guys that were rolling. They were playing so good defensively that we didn’t want to break the rhythm of that group, Jaylen did some things, but we really wanted to keep that bench core in there and reward them for how well they were playing,” Udoka told the media when asked about the bench unit’s performance as the Celtics limited the Heat to just 78 total points.
Of course, it wasn’t just the bench unit that contained the Heat; the whole team was locked in throughout the game, overcoming a tough start that saw both teams go scoreless in the opening two minutes before the Heat went on a mini-run.
Udoka told the media that his team’s commitment to their in-game adjustments significantly impacted winning the game.
“The energy, the focus, the attention to detail is what we’re talking about. The first quarter, the things that hurt us, we cleaned them up in the second quarter and most of the second half.”
Romeo Langford Speaks About Celtics Bench Unit
In recent seasons, an issue that has blighted the Celtics has been defensive rebounding, with their former head coach and now President of Basketball Operations, Brad Stevens dubbing their approach as “rebounding by committee.”
However, Udoka has continued to preach the importance of controlling the glass and limiting their opponents to one shot per offensive possession. While the Celtics have struggled to heed their new coach’s advice this season, they look to be figuring it out now, as displayed by the Celtics’ 35 defensive rebounds to limit the Heat’s second chance opportunities.
“We’re going to be small in some lineups, and bigs are going to be occupied themselves, so the guards have got to come in and rebound. We can’t get out and run if we’re not getting the rebounds, that’s why we’re harping on getting the rebound, so we can run and keep the pace up.” Langford said.
The bench rotations core four players pitched in with a total of 42 points, 12 rebounds, and eight assists along with their stellar defensive play, which allowed the Celtics to remain competitive when their stars went to the bench, per NBA Stats.
“We feel like every game we’re important, to give the guys starting some help, and backup coming off the bench. We knew it was the second game of a back-to-back, so we had to bring it a little bit more, because of the last game guys would be a little more tired, I felt as if we did that,” Langford explained when asked about the bench unit’s impact, “We know offense is going to come our way. Still, the main thing is defense and defensive rebounding and limiting teams to just one shot.”
Celtics Have Won Last Two Games on Defense
Following the Celtics’ collapse against the Chicago Bulls, the team headed out to Florida where they would play a back-to-back against the Orlando Magic and then the Heat, games which the Celtics won based on their substantial defensive improvements.
“I think it was a statement game, and they’re number one in the East. They have a really good team, and so for us to come out and hold them to what we did, definitely just carry it and move forward.” Nesmith told the media.
The Celtics now head to Texas, where they face the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday, November 6th, and will look to keep their defensive improvements going against Luka Doncic and co.