SAN FRANCISCO — The Boston Celtics are back in the NBA Finals for the first time in more than a decade, but first-year coach Ime Udoka said that is no cause for celebration.
“We’re not hanging a banner [for that] here,” Udoka said, referring to winning the Eastern Conference. “It’s a bigger picture. I think guys’ mindsets have flipped pretty quickly.
“Enjoy it. Guys relish that, and you have this time off. Even [Sunday] night in the media sessions [after Game 7], and obviously with us in the locker room, guys are already talking about what’s next and the bigger picture at hand.
“This isn’t what we came to do. You enjoy it and move on pretty quickly to the task at hand.”
That task, of course, is finding a way to beat the Golden State Warriors, who won three championships and made five straight trips to the NBA Finals from 2015 to 2019 before missing the playoffs each of the past two seasons.
As a result, Golden State enters this series with 123 games of collective NBA Finals experience. Boston, on the other hand, doesn’t have a single player on its roster who has appeared in a Finals game.
Udoka, however, said he isn’t concerned about the experience gap, pointing to the experience he and his assistant coaches have in Finals, including assistant Ben Sullivan winning a title with the Milwaukee Bucks last year and Udoka himself winning a title having coached in multiple Finals with the San Antonio Spurs, and the amount of playoff experience his players have.
“I can say, being there, I know what’s going on and we’ve already shared some of those stories as well as some of the other coaches on my staff that have been there and won championships,” Udoka said. “So from that standpoint, it is what it is. We’ll have some meetings with the group and talk about those things. But I think, in general, we have a very mature group, especially with our younger guys. Al [Horford] and Marcus [Smart], and our veterans are always very level-headed and keeping us in line as far as that. And then I’m not really worried about Jayson [Tatum], Jaylen [Brown] and the younger guys that haven’t been on this stage. Like I said, they got to the Eastern Conference finals multiple times and took that step, so we know what’s in front of us.
“We know what we’re here to play for, and I don’t think any of our guys are awed or intimidated by the moment at all. We understand what it is. We know the opponent in front of us. And for us, as always, this year it’s been business as usual. Going on the road, not fazed by that at all. We’re really looking forward to it. Not a lot of anxiousness or nervousness. We have this time that we’ll take advantage of, as far as rest and preparation, and be ready to go by Game 1.”
As part of that rest and preparation, the Celtics will also get a chance to allow Robert Williams III to manage the left knee soreness that has plagued him throughout the playoffs, and for Smart to get a breather from a variety of ailments up and down his right leg, including his quad, ankle and foot.
Williams missed three games against the Bucks in the conference semifinals and Game 3 against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals after suffering a bone bruise in that left knee — the same one he had meniscus surgery on in late March, which caused him to miss the end of the regular season and the beginning of Boston’s first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets.
Udoka said the rest would be beneficial for Williams, but that — as the coach has said previously — Williams will have to manage the knee throughout the rest of the playoffs.
“Rob’s all right,” Udoka said. “He’s good. He felt good. His minutes were low, only played 14 in [Game 7 against Miami]. We tried to keep him in the lower portion if we could. Obviously, that’s beneficial for him going forward, but the days off as well. So he should feel better in general. Getting looked at today and will continue to get his treatment and rehab and in order to get swelling down and some of the pain and mobility back. And so it’s going to be an ongoing thing, like I mentioned. He’s day-to-day pretty much throughout the playoffs.”
Udoka added that Williams, in particular, should benefit from the spread-out nature of the NBA Finals, with two days off between every game except Games 3 and 4 in Boston.
“[He] should feel better with time in between, especially with these two days off in between games, as opposed to playing every other day. And I think, going back to the Milwaukee series, we had played 17 days straight every other day, and so that’s going to take a toll on you coming off a surgery. We keep his minutes down and get him back to feeling better, obviously that will benefit us going forward.”
As for Smart, who missed Games 1 and 4 against Miami — first with a midfoot sprain, then with an ankle sprain — Udoka said he’s fine after playing heavy minutes in Boston’s Game 7 win over Miami.
“Marcus, there’s no concern about that,” Udoka said. “The swelling is what it is. That will dissipate as time goes by.
“The pain tolerance thing, he can obviously play through a lot, and he did that [in Game 7] and played heavy minutes.”