Boston entered the game short-handed after Marcus Smart and Al Horford were ruled out due to injury and health and safety protocols, respectively. Still, the Celtics found a way to win three-quarters of basketball against the Heat but were undone by a treacherous third quarter.
The Celtics have been here before, as they dropped their first game against the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of the playoffs before bouncing back to close that series out in seven games. However, there are some concerns about Ime Udoka’s ability to guide his team into the NBA Finals in his first season as head coach; especially now he’s tasked with facing Erik Spoelstra – the man who is widely viewed as the best coach in the NBA right now.
It’s not that Udoka isn’t exceptional at his job, but rather that his lack of experience could hinder his team now they’re in such deep waters. When speaking to the media following Miami’s win, Spoelstra disagreed with that line of thinking and praised Udoka.
“I’ve known Ime for a really long time. A lot of us in the business felt he should have been a head coach almost a decade ago. We think about the San Antonio battles we had. He was on that bench, he has amazing experience. From playing experience – who he’s played for, the organizations – and then his coaching experience, he’s far from being a rookie coach. I think he’s incredibly experienced.
And then I got to spend some time with him this summer with USA basketball; it just substantiated all the thoughts that I had about him. I just think he’s a really talented communicator, coach, well versed in X’s and O’s, managing personnel, all that type of stuff,” Spoelstra said when asked about Udoka’s inexperience and the unpredictability that comes with it.
Greg Popovich Has Previously Shared a Similar Sentiment
No head coach in the NBA knows Udoka better than Greg Popovich; the San Antonio Spurs legend has spent time as both his coach and his boss, so he knows exactly what Udoka brings to the table.
Shortly after Udoka was hired by the Celtics, Popovich, who was away with Team USA at the time, told the media what Boston could expect from their new coaching hire. Interestingly, Popovich’s comments are strikingly similar to what Spoelstra shared on Tuesday, May 17.
“He’s a stalwart. People overemphasize X’s-and-O’s in the league. All the coaches know their X’s-and-O’s. It’s basketball. It’s not analytical geometry or something like that. That stuff’s not tough. But to understand how to get the most out of people, to develop relationships with players, to make people accountable, to make them want to play for you are really the keys. He’s got all of that,” Popovich told the media during the off-season.
Celtics Need to Get Healthy
Regardless of how good of a coach you have, you can only be successful if your team remains healthy. And with Marcus Smart and Al Horford both missing game one, the Celtics’ lack of depth shone through.
But, if Boston can get Smart back for the second game of their series, they have every chance of evening up the series against Miami, as it’s unlikely the team collapses in the third quarter for a second straight game. Speaking to Masslive’s Souichi Terada before game one, Udoka noted that Smart is nearing a return to the court.
He tested out a little bit here, and we’re hoping he’s feeling better. But some soreness there, some swelling, and we’ll monitor him throughout the day. Get some treatment and still be listed as questionable. The swelling is there, and the soreness is there, but we hope he has good treatment, and we’ll see how it goes. It’s still sore. But he has a long day, an extra hour or two, and we’ll see how he feels. Legitimately questionable,” Udoka said.
Smart now has another 48 hours to continue his recovery from injury, and hopefully, he will return to the starting lineup for game two on Thursday, May 19.