This story first appeared in the Boston Herald.
BOSTON — If they are to recover from their first two-game losing streak of the postseason and fight back against elimination, the Celtics will need to summon a level of energy that wasn’t apparent at the end of their Game 5 loss Monday night.
Ime Udoka has admitted that after four rounds and 24 games of playoff basketball combined with an increased minute load on his regulars, the Celtics were likely showing the result of fatigue that night.
“It could be a fatigue thing,” he said after Wednesday’s practice session. “We’d like to give these guys a little bit of rest and get some fresh bodies off the bench to keep them fresh at the end of the game. They look at all these things in terms of rotations and lineups.
Jayson Tatum’s jump shot certainly showed the result in the form of three airballs in the fourth quarter, but the Celtics star now wants no change from a pace that has him averaging nearly 41 minutes into the Finals.
Tatum showed up for his post-practice presser and hugged a basketball – presumably unlike the ball he refused to hand to Draymond Green during Monday night’s time-out.
“It’s Game 6, playoff,” he said Thursday night at the Garden. “It’s not really time to find time to rest. Of course, as the game progresses, me and (Udoka) will talk about whether there is time to rest when there are points to find. But that’s what timeouts are for.
“At this point in the season we have at most two games left. So it’s just mental,” he said. “You have to fight your way through it. I’m not the only person who’s tired or dealing with injuries or whatever. The last two teams are standing. We’ve been playing for six, seven months. So everyone is busy with something. I don’t focus on that at all. We have a week at most, then I can rest for the whole summer.”
Adding to their propensity for unforced errors, the Celtics continue to show a tendency to bitch when things get tight and nowhere more so than in Game 5 when excessive whining led to technical fouls from both Udoka and Marcus Smart – the latter particularly damaging whistling in the fourth quarter.
Bitching became such a big issue this week that it was brought up in the dressing room, according to Al Horford, who was bothered enough by the issue to denounce the behavior on Monday night.
“We addressed it and we understand that we have to get over it,” he said after Wednesday’s practice session. “Officials are not perfect at the end of the day. We just have to go out there and focus on ourselves, on what we have to do. I believe the group understands that and that is our intention.”
Udoka admits the constant sight of Celtics facing officials must end.
“That’s what I would say. I think in general there’s just too much talk sometimes,” said the Celtics coach. “It feels like after fouls or dead balls, free throws, time-outs, someone is talking to a referee. Something , which we emphasized at the beginning of the season and which we had moved quite a bit away from, so something where we have to put our energy into the game and everything else that happens in between, apart from the referees, an area where we certainly can be better.
“I think we complain too much at times throughout the game. The late game might not be any different from the first, second or third quarters,” he said. “We have to ignore some and get better overall. … The refereeing, I don’t know if that affected the late game as much as it did throughout the game or differently.”
defense not the problem
Udoka may have had myriad problems with his team’s offense in the last two games, with turnovers a red flag issue at this point, but he’s content with the other end of the floor.
“Look at the bigger picture, we’re defending well enough to win,” he said. “It’s really some stagnant breaks on offense that really hurt us. We have one or two or three quarters of really good basketball, then we have one or two quarters that really hurt us. That was the fourth quarter a few games ago. Even in the last game when we took the lead, which we did well in the first nine, ten minutes of the third quarter, we had a little slip at the end that allowed them to come back in.
“For us, we want to focus on offense because I think we covered enough to win,” said Udoka. “Game 4 if we finish the game well, not in this five minute stint, we would be in good shape. That is our optimism. We fought 3 elimination games and won some 7 games. But you can’t count on us being there. You have to do things well to start the game and not get behind the eight like in the last game. As confident as we are in the situations we’ve found ourselves in, we understand that Golden State is a well-trained, high-IQ team that won’t beat themselves. You have to go out there and take it. Always confidence for us because we went through it. But we can help ourselves and play better offensively overall and not help them with the turnovers. All the same little things we’ve talked about throughout the series.”