Entering the fourth quarter of Thursday’s Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the Boston Celtics trailed the Golden State Warriors, 92-80, and the lead had been as large as 15 late in the third frame. Once the buzzer sounded 12 minutes later, Boston had snagged a victory, 120-108, and outscored Golden State 40-16 in the final period. At one point, their lead grew to as many as 15.
In an exclusive interview with Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes, Ime Udoka detailed what he relayed to his team ahead of their fourth-quarter dominance that saw them steal homecourt advantage and move three wins away from a championship.
“You’re getting punked out there,” Udoka said. “They’re punking us right now. Is this the way you want to go out? This is not us. Let’s at least give ourselves a chance.”
After roaring out to 92 points through three quarters, Golden State’s offense faltered mightily down the stretch, with 16 points over the final 12 minutes. The Celtics’ league-best defense took control and they rode it to a win.
“For anyone, I feel like that challenges us to step up and stop being so soft, you would say,” Grant Williams said. “He’s not afraid to say that to anybody. He was yelling at me, [Jaylen Brown] and whoever was in the game while we were running down the court, telling us to toughen the hell up. That’s what you love about Ime. He tells it like it is.”
Shot-making from Al Horford (26 points) and Brown (24 points), as well as Jayson Tatum’s 13 assists, were critical to Boston’s victory, but defense is its foundation and where the comeback began, which was exactly what Udoka wanted from his players.
“If we’re going to go out, let’s go out playing the way we play. That’s all I was asking,” Udoka said. “I’m happy the guys responded.”