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#pounditSaturday, May 21, 2022

Celtics coach has strange explanation for final play against Cavs

Ime Udoka

First-year head coach Ime Udoka looked very much the part on Saturday against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Udoka’s Boston Celtics were up by as many as 19 points on the Cavs in the second half but blew their lead. Down 91-89 with 9.4 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the Celtics entrusted guard Dennis Schroder to take the deciding shot. Schroder got a switch onto Cavs forward Cedi Osman, taking several seconds to do so, and missed a contested fadeaway two-pointer as time expired. While Jaylen Brown was out with a hamstring injury, leading scorer Jayson Tatum did play and was simply standing on the side for the entire final possession.

After the game, the Celtics coach Udoka offered a strange explanation for the final play. He said that they wanted to get Schroder downhill against “a guy we wanted to pick on a little bit,” per Jay King of The Athletic.

That explanation doesn’t make a sense for a few reasons. For one, Udoka is essentially admitting that the Celtics were trying to get Schroder to the rim for a two-pointer to force overtime. But the team was playing on the road in the second half of a back-to-back when they had already played overtime in their first leg against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. Virtually any coach would call for a three for the win in that scenario.

For another, Udoka clearly thought that putting the ball in Schroder’s hands to get to the basket was the team’s best option given the situation. It is true that Schroder was the Celtics’ leading scorer on the evening and that Tatum has been in somewhat of a shooting slump to start this season. Also, Osman is a generally poor defender who lacks foot speed. But he is still 6-foot-7 and could more easily defend a jump shot from the 6-foot-3 Schroder if Schroder could not get by him, which is exactly what happened. Putting the ball in the hands of the 6-foot-8 Tatum would have offered more leeway for a bailout jumper if the Cavs snuffed out Boston’s Plan A in that situation.

Finally, Udoka called for a Schroder iso on Osman instead of a quicker shot. When your team is trailing in the final seconds, you are generally trying to score as quickly as possible. That way, if you miss the first shot, you can get an offensive rebounding opportunity or can prolong the game by fouling. Here, Schroder bled nearly half the remaining clock to get his switch on Osman, and when he made his move and missed, the game was over.

Udoka replaced Brad Stevens, a coach who was well-respected for his after-timeout plays among his other strengths. But under Udoka, the Celtics are now 6-7 and have even faced internal criticism over Udoka’s offense. There is obviously a learning curve involved for any first-year NBA head coach. But Saturday night against the Cavs looked like a classic case of mismanagement on Udoka’s part.

Photo: Oct 31, 2018; Phoenix, AZ, USA; San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Ime Udoka against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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