One of Ime Udoka’s first initiatives as a head coach involved naming captains. The Celtics have not named anyone since Paul Pierce held the title and was briefly succeeded by Rajon Rondo. Brad Stevens preferred team leadership and the Celtics went without leadership for the remainder of his coaching period.
Odoka decided that the Celtics would have two as the training camp began. It made sense that young tag team stars Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum would adopt the stature. Instead, Brown nominated Al Horford. Marcus Smart flatly refuted the need for captains, and Tatum agreed. Odoka soon abandoned the idea.
“That kind of sitting in the back seat when things happened in pre-season,” Odoka said. “Right now, I’m prioritizing us to get back on track, get the guys healthy and get our squad together…what I mentioned is that guys lead in a lot of different ways. Marcus and Al are probably the most vocal players, and Jason and Jalen do that by playing them the most. So many men contribute, and if they all bring what they bring, I’m more happy with that than having to appoint leaders.”
That moment was an early learning experience for Odoka as a junior coach and one of his many prophetic phrases that would come true in the future. Leadership by Committee became a mantra for the difficult months ahead. Smart Brown and Tatum called up to play in the fourth quarter early in the season. Grant Williams took the podium after a tough loss in San Antonio that dropped the team to 10-10 to share a sense of urgency. They would listen to him… sometimes. Horford spoke when needed, urging the team to look in the mirror after the loss to the G-League unit in Minnesota.
In the end, Brown and Tatum rose to the top with the confidence of their teammates and they found their voices. They were all shown in Boston’s Over the Window Campaign.
“It’s something that Jason and I have been challenged to do more. Taking the reins, and that’s something we grow[in]into.” Being a leader. Talking to different guys separately and in different ways. Finding ways to inspire, motivate, influence your teammates and sometimes you Being creative in these areas. You have been more vocal, and I will continue to do so.”
Brown found opportunities in every game. After a series of Bruce Brown baskets and assists early in Match 3, Jaylen Brown and Smart led a timeout discussion in the middle of the first quarter while Odoka spoke with his assistants to the side before joining them again.
During the first half of Game Two when the Celtics trailed by 10 points in the first half, Brown told the Celtics to be himself and continue the course. He spoke in the first game after noticing that the team was quiet in the second half as their lead slipped by 15 points.
“This is the moment when our faith has to be the strongest. We will find a way to win this match,” Brown told them. “We will find a way to continue our attack. keep going. This is not the time to overcome adversity, it is time to raise it a bit.”
All three moments eventually helped the Celtics thrive in the fourth quarter, an area through which they struggled in the regular season. Boston scored nine of their first 13 possessions to start the final frame in the first game, a stark contrast to the late meltdowns that plagued the team during the regular season.
“I’m one of the longest-running Celtics here,” Brown told CelticsBlog after the second game. Especially in those moments when things might not go the way we want them to, all is not lost. Keep faith through adversity, through ups and downs. Winter always turns into spring.
Smart stepped up to start the comeback by driving a hat-trick, before quick Brown contemplated a three-point open corner kick, allowing the iconic sequence to win the game on the next possession. Since then, the Celtics have won the final quarter of Game 2, 29-17, then went on 20-12 halfway down the fourth in Game 3 to take a double-digit lead.
The team won and lost in every way imaginable during the year, finding ways to secure victories in three different types of fourth quarter — blocking a late charge and missing a big lead, overcoming a rockstar fight deficit, then winning a tight game on the road. Confidence became a theme for this team and a factor in all results, allowing team members to play, bypass double teams and defend with chainsaws.
Udoka said after match three: “In the playoffs you’re going to be in some tough matches. That’s helpful, but more than that, it’s learning from early season losses. I toughened our rules of the game, re-learn the players and what we’re asking of them. All this is starting to pay off with the way we are We’re playing with it now.”
It’s not about the fourth. Brown says the attention to small details, including boxing and hard finishing, throughout the Games was a factor in the group’s growth as well. They valued possessions, unlike the Nets, and built possession advantages large enough to beat a three-point shooting night by 30% in Game 3.
Tatum, who had one of his best defensive tackles ever with six steals in Game Three, went on to defend Durant extensively. He embraced this role as a stopper, while becoming more of a passer than a scorer in attack. The Celtics could have easily lost games earlier this season as the first two games in the series as they didn’t take shots in the first quarters.
He shot 42.9% through his first three wins, because he averages 8.0 assists per game. When Odoka was asked if Tatum’s offensive burden made the defense more difficult, he completely ignored the idea. You play on both sides of the ball, Odoka said early in the season.
“It’s something I’ve gotten better at as I’ve gotten older as my body has developed from my first year now,” Tatum said Saturday. “I lifted more, stronger, but mentally since I got into the league, obviously I’ve improved defensively, but especially in my first year when Brad was coaching. We had Ky, Gordon and Al, so part of me on the ground has been playing in defense. I’ve always had I knew that, and as I got older, my game only advanced because I wanted to be the best I could as a complete player. Making play, scoring and playing that side of the ball. Not many people do that, so trying to separate myself is a thing.”
The Celtics also stayed above the fight on the other side of the series. Brown brushed off questions about Kyrie Irving’s antics in the TD Garden during Game 1. They prepared for the Nets available on the floor, rather than fall for the possibility of Ben Simmons still coming back.
Udoka offered his unique dose of perspective after coaching the Nets, while Brown emphasized taking the play-by-string, quarter-to-quarter, game-to-game. Boston came out exceptionally focused, mature and composed in the series, even largely ditching Bruce Brown’s comments setting the schedule for the match.
It made what to many seemed to be an unfavorable match just another series of matches for the constantly rolling Celtics.
“I’m not worried about what KD is thinking,” Brown said after Durant discussed overthinking the third game. “I worry about what we think and our job is to make him guess a little. Our job is to make it difficult, but Kevin Durant is Kevin Durant. We had some shots inside and out and luckily he missed some shots and had a hard time going forward and we want to keep them on. That way, because we know what he can do and what he can bring to the table. So we just have to keep implementing the game plan.”