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May 29, 2022

Ime Udoka

Boston Celtics

Game 7: Postgame

Celtics 100, Heat 96

Q. Ime, to start with the obvious, to come all the way back here and get a berth in the NBA Finals in your first year as a head coach, how are you feeling?

IME UDOKA: I'm feeling good. It's been a long road obviously throughout the season. Feels like it was always meant to be this way, difficult, obviously, two Game 7s in the last two series, and shows what I said about our group, that we fought through a lot of adversity this year, a resilient group, and tonight seemed to kind of typify our season.

Had a 17-point lead, led start to finish, so that was good. We got off to a good start, but can't ever quite slam the door and have to grind it out. Bottom line is if we hold somebody in the 90s we feel good about ourselves, so this is a typical Celtics win.

Q. Ime, all year for you guys it's defense. You piled up I believe it was 11 stops on 14 shots there midway through the fourth. What do you see in this group when they're rolling at the highest level defensively, and then on Al, him being around all these guys, Brown, Tatum, Smart already, what do you see about the way they've responded to his leadership? What works for him as a leader for these guys?

IME UDOKA: Yeah, first question, defense is our identity. It's been there and held us -- got us through the tough times, when the offense wasn't clicking, games when the offense doesn't click to the level it should, we can always rely on that, and that was the case tonight.

Got big leads, dwindled it down and we continued to get stops when we needed to, especially at the end.

To your point, 11 out of 14 possessions, so that's our identity. It's kind of what we hang our hat on. When you look at our team across the board, very high-level defenders, first team, second team, Defensive Player of the Year, all five starters getting a first-place vote. They've all bought into that and love them for that.

Regarding Al, it's incredible what he's done all season. As I mentioned, came into training camp in extremely great shape, chip on his shoulder, prideful, wanted to come back to Boston. For him to play 44 minutes at this stage of his career and lay it all out there guarding bigs, smalls and everything in between, his leadership goes without saying. A vocal guy but does a lot by example, and I think everybody kind of ties into him.

Q. You talked the past couple days about having the belief you guys would come in and play the way you need to to win. How impressed were you by the poise you guys showed throughout the first 46 minutes or so, did not have the lapses mentally, the turnovers, the kind of stuff that's plagued you guys throughout the series?

IME UDOKA: It was great. When we talked about the start of the game, wanting to get off to a better start, our magic number with turnovers has been 12 within the series; got 13 tonight, and then kept them off the offensive glass. All the little things we talked about coming into it we did really well and that got us out to a lead. Played with extremely fast pace early -- 13 in the first quarter and 20 for the game fast-break points. Kind of hit all the targets we wanted to and guarded the three-point line well, 6-for-30 as far as that.

When it got close, seemed like we were obviously up 17-13 and kept getting down to single digits. We held our composure, never panicked, guys made big shots, big plays, and we defended at the level to get it back up, although going back down at times it's a credit to the Heat team and Spoelstra and everything they're doing. Obviously, I come from a San Antonio atmosphere, culture environment, and this is one of those teams that has the same thing going on here, certain standard who matter who's on the court.

We knew they were going to beat themselves. Going to make it tough and fight until the end, championship team. They got there last year. So credit to our guys for bouncing back from that, keeping our composure and finding a way to win it.

Q. You mentioned that nothing was ever easy. What was going through your mind when Jimmy pulled up for that three with 17 to go?

IME UDOKA: Oh, he's been making big shots throughout this whole series, especially last game and Game 1, came out in attack mode, and we had defended him decent overall. He had a big first half, but we were much better in the second half, and he's just a guy that's made big shots and puts that team on his shoulders.

Not surprised by anything he's done. Played through pain and injury, as well as the rest of their team, and we just came out a little bit more fresh tonight, and that's sometimes the luck of the series, luck of health and how it goes.

Q. You obviously had a vision for this team. You knew what you had, but they also had to buy in, get used to what you wanted them to do. Just getting to this point, just looking back on that, how well did they do?

IME UDOKA: Yeah, you can't complain. You can't get any better than No. 1 in defense and where we were on the season. That was always pretty high level, and when everybody figured it out and got on the same page, we took off defensively, had obviously several sustained games under 100 points and blowouts due to that, and then the offense started clicking later, guys understood what we were asking of them and some chemistry up and downs early with the COVID and injuries and stuff like that, once they got on the same page, can't complain about anything obviously.

To get to this point we had to flip the switch and turn around in a lot of ways, and guys were always receptive to being coached hard, to being pushed, to being asked to do more. And that shows the character of pushed to grow and take the next step. They've all been here, and to get to the championship is obviously the next step, but our focus is getting four more.

Q. Your first year, you coach your team to The Finals. Will you smile about this? You're a serious dude, you do not let your emotions go at all. Will you let your emotions go at all? Will you just focus on Golden State? How will you digest this, because this is a lot?

IME UDOKA: Yeah, you take the task at hand seriously, so before tonight we're not thinking of Golden State or anything but getting this win and finishing out the series. You can't help but smile and enjoy the moment out there on the court. It's kind of forced upon you, seeing the joy with the players and it's all about those guys.

Happy for them, and obviously the accomplishment to get us all over the hump. I got spoiled my first two years in the league and did back-to-back championships, but it's been a long time. Ben Sullivan was there last year, so we can kind of talk about that.

But for Jaylen, Jayson, Marcus, the guys that were here, losing in some Eastern Conference Finals, it's great to see the joy on their face and that they've grown to this level where they're the veterans now and they have to shoulder the load to get us to this point. So happy for them, extremely happy for them. Smiled about it as we were going through it. We're on the plane focusing on Golden State now.

Q. Obviously like you said it's a significant achievement for these guys. I know you're playing a team that kind of is accustomed to being at this level. How do you ensure and what will the challenges be to ensure that you're not satisfied with just this part and that there is a bigger step to take?

IME UDOKA: Yeah, it would be all for naught if we go lay and egg in the Finals, and we understand that. Guys were quick to celebrate but quick to flip the page and say, we've got four more, we don't hang or celebrate Eastern Conference championships in the Celtic organization. So we all fall in line and appreciate that standard of excellence.

Playing for championships, we're here now, just got to finish the deal. We played Golden State pretty well this year. Obviously beat them pretty bad late in the season where we were kind of rolling early in the season. Took a close loss. Had some guys in and out and they had a big lead early but we fought our way back. Story of the season, we've competed well against the best teams, and obviously you have to do that to make it to this point now.

Very confident going in. I know it's another tough challenge. I think Miami will help prep us for some of the off ball actions and the shooters that they had. But we know it's a high level team, executing team, has a ton of great shooters, great players overall, guys I know well, and we're ready for the challenge.

Q. Jayson obviously won the Larry Bird Award. What did you see out of him throughout the seven-game series for him to get to award?

IME UDOKA: A guy that's carried us throughout the season. Asked a lot to be put on his shoulders and has delivered. You look at the numbers, 26-point night and that's standard for him. That's an average night for him. He's averaged 27 this year, First Team All-NBA. So he knows a lot is relied upon him.

But you look down the line. Rob's presence out there playing through soreness and pain is just what we needed, those 15 minutes was what we asked of him, and just the fact that he's pushing through it, not at 100 percent is a testament to him, Marcus, as well, and then you look down the line, 26, 24, 24, balanced across the board. But Jayson he's the head of the snake. Well-deserved all the accolades he's getting and he's only 24 and not even touched his ceiling, not even close to that.

Look for bigger and better things, and obviously he's going to do the same in the championship series.

Q. You've talked so much about how your team's advantage is to try to wear the other team down, but you also have struggled with composure, whether it's foul calls or just the flow of the games, especially late in games. Tonight you continued to execute even when you weren't hitting shots and getting big rebounds. How did you feel like you were able to hold on and avoid that slip that plagued you earlier in the year?

IME UDOKA: Yeah, I think we've improved in that area. One thing I tell them is let me complain to the refs, you guys play through it, and I did plenty of complaining tonight. Enough for the rest of the group.

I think, did we defend at a higher level in the second half? They got to the free-throw line a ton in the first half, and we caught up with that number. I think it was 8 to 22. So they only shot two in the second half, if I'm not mistaken. We guarded better, paid attention to detail, just got to fight through things. Refs are human, we have to play through stuff. It is what it is. Both teams are aggressive on defense, being very physical, and you just have to play through it, and I think our guys have improved throughout the year as far as that.

Q. You mentioned Rob; is he okay? How is the knee right now? Seemed like he needed a couple of pep talks throughout the course of the game. How is he holding up?

IME UDOKA: He's okay. There's some swelling. That limits his movement. Restricted movement as far as that. He can't be himself to his standard and what he wants to do, and we're not asking him to be the Rob when he's 100 percent healthy. He has to understand that. We rely on him to keep everybody in their places coming off the bench, keep our units and matchups like we like them to start the game, and it's not going to be long rotation, his average minutes for the year. But what he gives out there is invaluable, just a presence in general.

He understands we are not asking him to be the all-world Second Team defensive stopper but his presence in the paint, getting back out to shooters, getting guys off the line is good enough for us.

Like I said, it keeps everybody in their place, and he did exactly what we needed of him, so kudos to him pushing through it, and now he gets some rest, some much-needed rest, and hopefully he comes back feeling better.

One thing I do want to say and bring awareness to, as we're all celebrating this win, I can't help but think when I talk to my son, a 10-year-old, and think about Uvalde and what's happened. We talk about this game that we love and put all our passion into, and it's not life or death. We win, we lose and go home and kiss our kids and you move on either way. We'll be happy if we win and we'd be down if we lost, but you sit back and think about 19 children and two adults that don't get that. That's life or death, that's real, and that's something I don't want to be forgotten, the awareness of that that just happened a week ago and seems to be pushed in people's memory already.

Change is needed. It's a game that we play, and regardless of the result, it's not life or death, bottom line. Just keep that in our minds.

Thank you.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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