Udoka: C’s need better start in Game 7 vs. Heat

Udoka: C's need better start in Game 7 vs. Heat thumbnail

1: 11 PM ET

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    Tim BontempsESPN

MIAMI — Ahead of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka said that after his team has gone through a roller-coaster ride of a season to get to this point, it is only fitting that this series will come down to Boston having to win a third road game on the shores of Biscayne Bay to advance to its first NBA Finals since 2010.

“Yeah, I would say so,” Udoka said on a videoconference call with reporters Saturday morning. It’s not just the series for us, it’s been all season. Even in the playoffs, it’s not been easy. A lot of that is due a lot to what we’re doing. We can do better.

“But it’s another chance for us. To win two games, you must be in this situation, going up 3-2. As much as you would love to win it on your home court. However, we’ve been going up and down this series and that’s why it’s where is right now. “

The Celtics had a chance to close out the Miami Heat at home in Game 6 on Friday night, only for Jimmy Butler to put up 47 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in 46 minutes in an all-time great performance by the future Hall of Famer to ensure this series would reach a seventh game. Boston had a poor start, something that has plagued them throughout this series. The third quarter was another problem.

With their season at stake in Game 7, Udoka stated that the Celtics are determined to get off to a better start in what could prove to be their last game of the season. After again committing several careless turnovers in the opening moments of Game 6 and falling into a 12-5 hole, they essentially spent the game attempting to dig themselves out of it. Udoka stated that a lot of it had to do with their starts and the fact that they had to play catch up the entire game. “We were aware of the situation Miami was in last evening and didn’t play our best basketball during the first quarter offensively or defensively. The majority of the game was played behind the eight ball. We were never in the lead, or tied it a few times. It felt like we were constantly fighting for the ball, shooting ourselves in our own foot.

“We’d like to get off to better starts, put some pressure on the opponent when they’re in that situation, similar to what we did against Milwaukee in Game 7. This is our mentality going in. We want to do better going into [Miami],. We are confident in going down there winning. However, we need to get off to better starts, get easy baskets, and not give up too early in the game. “

Udoka also spoke about the ways Miami was able to keep Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown off the board in the second half. After both of Boston’s star wings scored 18 points in the first half, they combined to take seven shots in the second half — and took only one each in the fourth quarter, as the Heat went out of their way to force other players to beat them.

It nearly worked, as Derrick White, in particular, had a brilliant game off the bench. Udoka stated that it’s a balance act for his stars to find their teammates when defenses collapse on them, while still being aggressive enough for themselves.

“Obviously, early in the game if they’re going after them, we encourage them to get off the ball and the defense will kind of break down and open up for them later in the game,” Udoka said. “Guys were making enough plays with the ball. We want them to be aggressive at all costs. Look for opportunities. Many of them had turnovers. They took a few shots but didn’t really drive into traffic. This encouraged them to be more aggressive. Their field goal attempts were quite low for half of the time. Miami was there to help them.

“But, like I said, Derrick had it going a little bit, but we always want to stay aggressive and make the right play. They are our scorers, our leading scorers, and we need them to bring it home in the fourth quarter. We need to do better at finding them, getting them the ball, and placing them in the right spots, knowing how the defense is protecting them. “

It would have been hard to imagine a scenario where the Celtics would be playing right now, let alone in Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals. It’s been a season like this in Boston. Udoka stated that the team’s resilience over the campaign’s topsy-turvy nature can help the Celtics win.

“We’ve been a resilient group,” Udoka said. “We’ve overcome many obstacles this year. It’s been difficult, but it has been a season. Some of the things we’ve done in this season make it seem like we have to take a more difficult route and put ourselves in that position.

“[We] understand the big picture and what’s in front of us. We were given the chance to win two games and now we have to finish it in Miami. “

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