Ime Udoka powers Celtics Game 1 rally in fourth quarter with unique tactic against Warriors | Brian Robb

The Celtics closed out Game 1 against the Warriors with 12 minutes of basketball that could become the team’s highlight of the season.

Facing a 12-point deficit early in the frame, the visitors jumped all over Golden State with a 40-16 stretch, quickly turning a double-digit deficit into a runaway victory as Steve Kerr retired his starters in the last minute. .

Boston’s win snapped the Warriors’ nine-game playoff home winning streak and 13-game home winning streak dating back the past decade.

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It was the worst quarter of all the playoffs at both ends of the field for the Warriors with the most points allowed (40) and the fewest scored (16) against a Boston team that won its only Game 1 since the first round. playoffs. At the center of it all was rookie head coach Ime Udoka.

The 44-year-old has put together quite a resume for himself this playoff, helping the Celtics survive tough matchups against the Bucks and Heat. However, his chess moves in the fourth quarter of Game 1 opened the door to a historically dominant quarterback that changes the outlook for this series for both teams.

Abandonment of double big programming: The Warriors made their way offensively against the Celtics in the third quarter, racking up 38 points with their 3-point shot and second-chance opportunities (23 second-chance points in the first three quarters, including 11 in the third quarter alone -time).

Boston has been a top defense largely due to its size in the frontcourt throughout the year, with Udoka opting to keep two of Al Horford, Rob Williams and Grant Williams on the field during the major. part of the match until the critical moment.

However, with the Warriors getting easy looks against the Boston greats in drop coverage or out of screens and transfers, Udoka opted to pull off an easy target for Golden State’s offense in the final frame. He played with just one big on the floor the entire fourth quarter, shutting Grant Williams out of the rotation altogether.

The move paid off at both ends as the Warriors’ offense (16 points on 41% shooting) began to stall with no lag to target with their smaller lineups for easy looks. Boston committed to playing 1-on-1 defense in even matchups and simply won those battles with that smaller look that allowed them to play better against a smaller Warriors lineup. The Celtics tightened the glass by also going small (only one offensive rebound allowed in the fourth quarter) and made worthy defensive sacrifices for an offensive advantage that paid off in the team’s rally.

Consider the range of maximum shooting volumes: The Celtics failed to keep pace with Golden State’s firepower for much of the first three quarters and that led Udoka to unveil a seldom-used formation early in the fourth quarter, with many 3-shooters high-volume points (Payton Pritchard, Derrick White, Brown, Tatum) around a big-rolling rim at Rob Williams. It was a group that hadn’t been used in all of the playoffs and only twice in the regular season (for five minutes in total), but Udoka went for it, opting for a smaller defensive look with some firepower. more offensive with the game in play. line.

The unit cut the Warriors’ 12-point lead to four before Udoka decided to go all-in with his shooting look, returning a perimeter threat to Al Horford for Williams.

Quite simply, that left no one on the Warriors defense to hide defensively if they wanted to give Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown any extra attention. Boston’s five shooters on the field were historically high volume and elite from 3-pointers in their careers, with the exception of White, who was on fire that particular night.

Golden State still made the decision to repeatedly bet against Boston’s shot by providing additional help to Tatum and Brown. The Celtics responded by going red from 3-point range, 9 of 12 total in the frame, punishing the Warriors for conceding open looks. While the players deserve credit for making the shots, Udoka’s lineup decision unlocked the team’s best ground spacing. The Pritchard/White/Tatum/Brown/Horford had played two minutes together all of the playoffs before Game 1. Their 12-2 run together midway through Game 1 gave the Celtics the advantage for good and changed the game. given.

Staying with Pritchard on Smart longer than planned: It was the perfect example of Udoka’s gut feeling shining in a positive light. Marcus Smart wasn’t playing badly in Game 1 heading into the fourth quarter and on paper it was a matchup the team needed him more than ever defensively against the Warriors guards.

However, Udoka saw something in the appearance of Boston’s offense with Pritchard down early in the fourth quarter. His production wasn’t something to stand out (five points) but his decision-making was on point and his reliable 3-point shooting made him a valuable threat with the way the Warriors played on defense. Surprisingly, Pritchard’s nose to rebound (four rebounds, a team-high in the fourth quarter) also helped Boston keep Golden State out of the offensive glass when both teams downsized in the final frame.

Udoka ended up rolling with Pritchard for eight minutes of the fourth quarter, despite Smart being rested and ready to go long before. The reserve guard was a plus-18 in the frame, rewarding Udoka for his confidence before a powered-up Smart took over and made a pair of wide-open clutch 3s to help Boston complete the comeback victory. Many coaches would have returned to Smart sooner due to their reputation, but Udoka was not that guy. The Celtics were better off for that.


In the end, the Celtics played nearly a perfect quarterback of basketball and a lot of credit for that goes to the players. Jaylen Brown set the tone early on, Jayson Tatum was a willing passer, Al Horford turned off the lights and it all clicked as the team made good play and passed over and over.

Udoka, however, made many unorthodox choices that fueled this dominant framework. Those decisions, combined with his relentless implementation of a drive-and-kick offense where extra passes are prioritized (12 assists in the fourth quarter), produced a comeback that will go down in Finals history. The Celtics are having a special season right now and Udoka’s chess moves continue to be a big reason for that.

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