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Jackie MacMullan on Ime Udoka, toughness and "hero ball"

 Some of the very-finest sports writing has its origins in Boston, and The Ringer's Jackie MacMullan may be at the top of that list. Her story on Celtics Coach, Ime Udoka, and his team's rise to the NBA Finals is worth reading in its entirety, but here are a few excerpts:

(MacMullan): He (Coach Ime Udoka) has made it his mission to transform lottery picks into grinders, convincing them to prioritize defensive stands instead of crowd-pleasing 3-pointers or thundering dunks. He has taken them to heights even they had begun to fret might be out of their reach … until their coach challenged them to embrace a journey that builds resiliency and connectivity, the hallmarks of his own well-worn path to success.

After the Celtics fell to the Miami Heat in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, Udoka had placed much of the blame on his crew "playing to the crowd and trying to do too much", apparently meaning focusing on "crowd-pleasing 3-pointers and thunderous dunks" rather than solid defense and team play.

(MacMullan): Udoka called Smart in. He reminded him that bad habits—including Smart’s own—wouldn’t dissipate overnight. He told him his star teammates were wounded and embarrassed by his comments. Then he informed his veteran point guard: This is your mess. Fix it.

The above incident occurred after Marcus Smart had called out The Jay Team for "not passing the ball": Apparently, no member of the Celtics team is immune from his criticism or his tough love.

(MacMullan): Quote by Udoka to his team: "Until you forget about scoring and take ownership of the defensive end of the floor, this team is going nowhere".

(MacMullan): Each time the Celtics have been left for dead, their former journeyman coach convinces them to pull themselves up and push onward, bloodied but unbowed.

Sometimes, the scars are worth it.

The rookie head coach has brought his team far in one season - from mediocrity all the way to the NBA Finals. He is not done. Game 1 versus Golden State starts at 9:00 PM ET tonight, and the Celtics hang their hats on tough, physical, stifling defense. That may be enough to bring home Banner 18.


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