The Celtics have remained confident in the aftermath of their disappointing loss in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals the other day, and with reason. It isn’t simply because they won three of the four quarters they played against the Heat. In larger measure, it’s because head coach Ime Udoka has proven to be a master at making in-series adjustments, providing his charges with the impetus to quickly bounce back. Not for nothing are they three and zero in the 2022 postseason when it comes to outings immediately following a setback.
The Heat are, of course, motivated to achieve, with chief bench tactician Erik Spoelstra arguably even better than Udoka with a clipboard in hand. For the most part, though, the Celtics know they have the superior personnel, not to mention the best player in the seven-game affair. For all the consistency six-time All-Star Jimmy Butler has displayed in the playoffs to date, they know top dog Jayson Tatum is more talented and skilled, as evidenced by his performances against the Nets and Bucks (starring former Most Valuable Player awardees Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo, respectively, in the previous rounds.
Not that the Celtics already have today’s set-to in hand. As their poor performance in the third period of Game One showed, they tend to be their own worst enemies. Tatum himself appears to lose focus at times. Remember his atrocious effort in Game Three of the semifinal-round series versus the Bucks? That said, they benefit from having short memories, hence their capacity to keep their Hyde side in check while bent on proving true to potential. And, certainly, the fact that they’ll have Defensive Player of the Year awardee Marcus Smart back in uniform should serve them in good stead.
True, the Celtics will remain handicapped with Al Horford sidelined due to health and safety protocols. On the other hand, Smart’s return from a foot injury addresses the biggest problem they faced in the opener; sophomore Payton Pritchard had no business logging 30 minutes and putting up a whopping 16 shots, and then serving as Butler’s punching bag at the other end of the floor. Bottom line, they know all the Heat did was hold court. They still have the opportunity to steal homecourt advantage, and they would do well to avail of it.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.