How Kyrie Irving Inadvertently Warned Celtics Of Nets’ Biggest Weakness

Ime Udoka may have given the Celtics their biggest mismatch


April 26, 2022

“I don’t really see us having a head coach,” Kyrie Irving previously said after the Nets hired Steve Nash to take over at the helm, Brooklyn’s guard then continuing to share how it was a “collaborative effort” with Kevin Durant and himself.

No head coach? Yeah, it certainly looked that way throughout Brooklyn’s four-game playoff series against the Boston Celtics, as Ime Udoka and company put the finishing touches on a first-round masterpiece Monday at Barclays Center.

In a series in which the Celtics held a number of advantages, Udoka and the coaching staff may have given Boston it’s biggest one. Udoka, who first set the tone by not avoiding Brooklyn, then completely pantsed Nash and the superstar-led Nets, and it was on display for all to see.

“Just Ime, man. His attention to every little detail,” Marcus Smart said after Monday’s series-ending victory, per Celtics reporter Keith Smith. “His attention to game planning. Every game plan he had for us put us in the right spot.”

Jayson Tatum added of Udoka: “I’m glad we got him.”

Udoka’s biggest contribution came in devising a way for the Celtics to shut down Nets superstar Kevin Durant. The versatile, switch-heavy Celtics defense made it clear from the jump that all eyes would be on Durant. Whether it was Tatum, Grant Williams or someone else, the C’s brought a physicality that the 6-foot-10, 240-pound scorer didn’t seem to appreciate and it limited Brooklyn’s best player from ever getting into a rhythm. Durant couldn’t best Boston’s hard-nosed defensive group while his best effort in Game 4 proved too little and far too late.

Nash and the Nets, almost incredibly, never adjusted. The best Brooklyn looked offensively came in the second half of Game 4 with Durant, Irving and the Nets finally attacking the paint all while veteran Blake Griffin found teammates for open looks. Why did that take so long? Who knows. But, again, too little and far too late.

“Give credit to the Celtics, first off. They’re an incredible team,” Durant said, as seen on NBC Sports Boston. “They were just a better team.”

And while Udoka ultimately turned the Celtics’ defense into the team’s biggest advantage, his well-established focus on ball movement, which Tatum, Smart and the rest of the group bought into during Boston’s remarkable turnaround, helped average just shy of 26 assists per contest. The Celtics out-assisted the isolation-heavy Nets 77-61 during the first three game with a clear edge (27-16) during a pivotal Game 2.

All told, coaching clearly was among the biggest differences in Celtics-Nets, and Brooklyn’s lack of buy-in from its superstars may have inadvertently hinted at that long ago.

Thumbnail photo via Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports Images
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