When the Boston Celtics were looking for a new head coach this past offseason, it was clear they wanted a new voice. As The Athletic’s Jared Weiss reported, “several sources close to the players said several members of the locker room welcomed a coaching change, noting that Stevens did not appear to be holding key players accountable.”
So when Ime Udoka was hired, he was tasked with being more vocal. He challenged the players publicly, showed ‘flashes of intensity’ on the sidelines and made sure not to hold anything back. And in a recent article by Jackie MacMullan of The Ringer, Celtics point guard Marcus Smart spoke about this style of coaching.
The Defensive Player of the Year revealed that Udoka often yelled at him to be better and was totally okay with that kind of leadership.
“There are times when I turn the ball around, and he pulls me aside and says, ‘What the hell are you doing? Gather your team! ” Smart told MacMullan. “I’m good with that.”
Smart isn’t the only player to appreciate Udoka’s intense coaching style either. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown also talked about it.
Tatum and Brown thrive under new style of coaching
Brown said Udoka’s patient but straightforward approach helped him gain the trust of the team, as he treated everyone the same.
“Ime put us on the same page because there were no tiers,” Brown told The Ringer. “He addressed us all on the same level.”
Tatum echoed those sentiments, saying the team’s early-season struggles only brought them closer together. Boston was a sub-.500 team on Jan. 14 but is now set to play in the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors.
“Even when we lose games, Ime does a really good job of telling us what we did wrong and what we could do better, but also making sure everyone believes in us and the group and getting ready for the next one,” Tatum told Mac Mullan.
Udoka’s coaching style goes beyond just calling players publicly. He also made sure to show them exactly what they had done wrong.
Celtics infamous movie night
In what has now become an infamous story, Udoka held a movie session after a disappointing West Coast road trip in December. He called the players in front of the team, showing them snippets of what they had done wrong.
“There was a montage of Brown repeatedly driving through traffic and turning the ball over. Tatum was a compilation of failed iso games that begged for an extra pass. Rob Williams III sank in his seat as Udoka made several missed defensive rotations which led to Williams committing unnecessary fouls. No one was spared,” MacMullan wrote.
However, according to assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, Boston “didn’t respond.” They continued to lose until Udoka called them one last time after a loss to the New York Knicks on a game winner by RJ Barrett.
Udoka said that until they “forget to score and take over the defensive end of the pitch, this team isn’t going anywhere.” And then the wins started rolling in. From that point on, the Celtics finished the regular season 33-10.
And now, just months after Barrett’s dagger, the Celtics are in the NBA Finals.