No NBA Finals experience, no problem for Celtics says Udoka

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jun 02 2022 09:21 AM

Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka looks on during the first half of the NBA basketball game between the Boston Celtics and the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 17 November 2021. Erik S. Lesser, EPA-EFE
Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka looks on during the first half of the NBA basketball game between the Boston Celtics and the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 17 November 2021. Erik S. Lesser, EPA-EFE

SAN FRANCISCO -- Having no players with experience in the NBA Finals won't be such a problem for the Boston Celtics, coach Ime Udoka said, even against a finals-familiar Golden State squad.

The Warriors, who host Thursday's opener in the best-of-seven series, are in the championship final for the sixth time in eight years and chasing their fourth crown in that span, sparked by core veterans Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green.

Boston lost the Eastern Conference finals three times in the previous five seasons before breaking through this year.

The Celtics ousted Brooklyn, then eliminated defending champion Milwaukee and East top seed Miami in seventh-game winner-take-all showdowns to reach the promised land.

The young team finds the pre-finals hype unmatched.

"Definitely feels different," Celtics star Jayson Tatum said. "Definitely a lot more obligations. It definitely does feel different. I'm sure basketball is still basketball. But all the things leading up to it, unlike anything else."

That doesn't worry Udoka, however, and he knows the championship series after winning a title as an assistant coach with San Antonio in 2014.

"Once you get out of the initial media circus and the intensity and how everything is much more exaggerated, it's not much different when you get on the court," Udoka said.

"You have guys that are young but have been through a few Eastern Conference finals already, and our path this year, two game sevens and playing some high-level teams.

"Taking a tough route, I think that has prepared us more than anything."

Udoka’s staff of assistants includes Ben Sullivan, an assistant coach on 2021 champion Milwaukee.

"As coaches, we've been through it and won championships ourselves. We can kind of give advice on what's to come," Udoka said.

"But once we get out there, what's really been good about our group is they are not caught up in the moment, the game sevens, playing on the road.

"You see our record, and more so than anything, it's just basketball at the end of the day. That's what we try to stress, and that's the benefit of our group being so young and approaching it that way."

Celtics center Al Horford had played more post-season games than any player in league history who hadn't reached an NBA Finals.

"It feels great to be here. Just still soaking everything in," Horford said "It's something that's exciting.

"We're at the point that we want to be. Now we have a great opportunity in front of us. I'm really happy, really grateful to be at this point with this group."

- Going to be juiced -

Celtics reserve guard Payton Pritchard figures the thrill of a new experience will provide energy for a fast start.

"I guess we're going to be excited. We're going to be juiced," he said. "Just use that to our advantage to come out from the jump, be out running, all that."

German center Daniel Theis has championship experience, although he admits three German league crowns with Brose Bamberg aren't quite the same as what the NBA Finals offer.

"It's obviously two different leagues, but it's experience being in a final and playing for a championship," Theis said.

"We've been in Eastern Conference finals before. Our team's experience -- those ups and downs like the past couple years -- playing the NBA Finals is new for everyone. But as a group we're so close, and hopefully it doesn't affect us."

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