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First-Year HC Ime Udoka Has Led Celtics’ Resurgence

  • Ime Udoka built a reputation as a defensive guru in nine seasons as an assistant coach.
  • Now in his first year as a head coach, Boston has the league's best defense and a lethal duo.
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports/Design: John Regula

In his first season, Ime Udoka has the seventh-best odds (+3000*) to win Coach of the Year, and the Celtics have the seventh-best odds (+1200*) to win the Finals. Both feel terribly miscalculated.

On Dec. 29, Boston was the 9-seed fighting to maintain a play-in spot. After a fourth straight win on Monday, Boston is the 4-seed in the East, just 2.5 games back of conference-leading Miami.

As an assistant, Udoka made his reputation as a defensive guru, but he’s also getting the most out of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, with whom he developed a strong relationship as an assistant with Team USA this past summer.

  • The Celtics are first in defensive rating (105.8), OPP PPG (103.8), OPP FG% (43%), and OPP 3PT (33.8%).
  • In their last 26 games, the Celtics are 22-4 with 13 wins against playoff teams.
  • On Sunday, Tatum and Brown became the first pair of Celtics to score 30+ points in back-to-back games since Larry Bird and Kevin McHale in 1988.

In November, Boston was reportedly talking to Philadelphia about potentially breaking up the duo and flipping Brown for Simmons. 

With Tatum and Brown jelling, the league’s best defense, and Udoka at the helm, the C’s ceiling is perhaps its highest since they made the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals.

Ime Udoka earned $3.5 million in five full seasons as an NBA player, and while his current salary is unknown, he’s likely made more in his first season as Celtics head coach. 

What is certain is that Udoka is exceeding expectations in Boston.

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