How Ime Udoka's challenge ignited Celtics' 4th-quarter rally: 'They're punking us'
SAN FRANCISCO — The Golden State Warriors had just tacked on a blistering 38 points in the third frame of Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics on Thursday evening.
For a Celtics squad that prides itself on the defensive end, it was a punch to the gut. The Warriors were up a comfortable 12. The crowd was deafening inside Chase Center, with two fans strolling through the 126-section concourse shouting, “We’re about to be up 2-0 after Sunday.”
Sensing the contest slipping away, and before the fourth quarter commenced, an impassioned Celtics head coach Ime Udoka took his seat, looked his team in the eyes and issued a fiery challenge that consisted of a descriptor that not many first-year head coaches could vocalize.
“You’re getting punked out there,” Udoka told Yahoo Sports of his pre-fourth-quarter challenge. “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.”
From there, challenge accepted and message received.
The Warriors’ high-octane offense was held to 16 fourth-quarter points while giving up a 40-piece that led to a colossal collapse that sealed their fate.
Boston stole Game 1 with some inspiring play on both ends of the court, winning 120-108.
Players insisted their coach’s challenge hit home.
“For anyone, I feel like that challenges us to step up and stop being so soft, you would say,” forward Grant Williams told Yahoo Sports of Udoka’s message. “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.”
“It’s something we needed to hear,” Derrick White told Yahoo Sports. “We were challenged to toughen up and we did.”
Stephen Curry exploded for 30 points in the first three quarters, but was limited to four points on 2-of-6 shooting in the final period.
“If we’re going to go out, let’s go out playing the way we play. That’s all I was asking,” Udoka told Yahoo Sports. “I’m happy the guys responded.”
The win on the road was even more impressive considering Jayson Tatum scored 12 points on 3-of-17 from the field. Other players stepped up.
Al Horford produced a team-high 26 points and was 6-for-8 from downtown, Brown supplied 24 points as a steady weapon and reserve guard White tallied 21 points and was 5-of-8 from long distance.
Overall, the Celtics converted 21 triples on 41 attempts.
The crowd went from blaring to speechless in a matter of minutes. The fans' faces were in shock as they watched their team crumble.
With the extra day of rest inserted in the Finals, Golden State will have to wait until Sunday for some get-back.
“It’s a tough feeling for sure,” Curry said after the game. “Nobody wants to sit on that for the next two days and just sit and wait knowing how big Game 2 is going to be for us. But [we have to] stay locked in, stay focused and stay confident in who we are and what we can do, and the fact that this series is just getting started.”
Udoka has earned the respect of his team, being that he was a former player who had to scrape and claw for every opportunity to stay in the league.
This team is taking on the identity of its head coach, and it paid off at the right time on Thursday.
“It was a clear challenge of, ‘Are we going to sit here and let them get to where they want, or are we going to make things difficult?’” Payton Pritchard told Yahoo Sports of Udoka’s message. “‘Are we going to stand up, make things tough and be physical or are we going to lay down?’ was his message. It worked.”