The Boston Celtics’ dreadful 14-point first quarter in the team’s 96-88 loss against the San Antonio Spurs, Friday night, marked the sixth time, this season where the Celtics finished the opening frame scoring 20 or fewer points.
All six outings, including a rare back-to-back stint against the Washington Wizards — where the Wizards held the Celtics to 19 and 20 first-quarter points — occurred on the road and resulted in a 2-4 record.
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Averaging 24.8 first-quarter points a night, the Celtics (10-10), 20 games into the 2021-22 campaign, are currently fourth in the NBA in the fewest first-quarter points per game, per Teamrankings.com.
Ime Udoka: ‘Hold Someone to 96, You Should be in Good Shape’
Still, Celtics head coach Ime Udoka credited his team for remaining tough on the defensive end of the floor, which ultimately propelled a 24-point comeback in a disappointing loss — where the Spurs rallied back behind a 15-0 run and never looked back.
“Anytime you hold someone to 96 (points), you should be in good shape. Obviously, the poor start got us in the hole,” Udoka said after Friday’s loss. “Fought our way back several times but it felt like every time, early on, that we got close to single digits, we got a turnover, took an ill-advised shot, let them get it back up to 15, or so. We still fought our way back, like you said, in a great third quarter defensively, holding them to 18 (points). And, even in the fourth quarter into our last, you know, they had 11 points with three minutes to go. So, we fought our asses off in the second half.
“Murray got the matchup he liked there. It was a little over everybody, like I said, he scored over everybody. So, it wasn’t like he was picking on a big or a small there. And, yeah, it’s disappointing to not score in our last three minutes. We had a 25-point quarter leading up to that. So, we should have finished that with a 30-plus point quarter. So, things to learn from the game.”
Celtics Starting 5 Searching for ‘Team Basketball’
In the end, Murray and the Spurs’ offensive onslaught of a 15-0 run made all of the difference. However, for Ime, things could have ended differently if his starting lineup got off to a better start in the first quarter, which according to the first-year head coach, is a testament to the selfish play that often errodes the team-oriented approach Udoka’s preached throughout his first two months as NBA head coach.
“It seemed like everybody was trying to get themselves going,” Udoka said about the team’s offense in the first quarter. “Second quarter on; we were actually moving the ball and biting the double-teams. They went with a box-and-one on Jayson late, and we got the looks we wanted. Wide-open corner threes for Dennis, and penetration from other guys. Jayson got it going and they started to try to take him out of it, obviously. I think it was more so the first quarter of everybody trying to get going instead of playing team basketball.”
Preparation is key. The Celtics are currently 5-9 on the road and will be playing six out of the next seven games away from TD Garden — which is all of the more reason why Udoka is hoping he and his team can figure out how to unlock its first-quarter struggles on the road.
“I feel like at times we’re trying to get ourselves going and coming not yet ready to play,” Udoka said. “We shouldn’t have to take two-three shots to get us in a rhythm or to get us going. Come out and play the way we do it in the second, third, fourth quarters from the start. Guys are trying to find a rhythm instead of playing together. That’s what it looks like, to me, in the first quarter, at times.
“Everybody’s worried about their game and getting themselves going instead of what’s best for the team and playing together. When we do that, it’s very apparent that we’re different offensively. To hold someone to 96 (points) and only score 88 is disappointing.”
Ime Udoka: ‘The Second Half was a Different Story’
Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Dennis Schroder — who was inserted into the starting lineup in place of Robert Williams — alongside veteran Al Horford, have to play cohesively. Instead of the first-quarter approach that dug the Celtics into a 24-point hole, to begin with.
“The second half was a different story there — where we scored the ball extremely well. Just can’t dig ourselves that hole,” Udoka said. “Come out flat for no reason, we know what they’re going to do defensively and just have to continue to play together. It’s habits that we need to break.”