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The Boston Celtics produced one of the most surprising midseason turnarounds in NBA history last season as part of a trek to the NBA Finals. But head coach Ime Udoka has stressed to his players that they won’t be sneaking up on anyone during the 2022-23 campaign and must change their mindset in the upcoming season.
“We’re being hunted now,” Udoka said during an appearance on WEEI on Wednesday. “That’s the message to the guys: Last year, we were the hungry, younger team that had to try to achieve some things and we’ve gotten to that level. But know we have to take another step and teams are going to be coming after us with a target on our back.
“No time to get out to a slow start. [The coaching staff will] be more comfortable with the group and vice versa and so we’re ready to get after it again.”
The Celtics struggled out of the gates in the 2021-22 season and were forced to expend a lot of energy to surge to the No. 2 seed over the final three months of the regular season. Jayson Tatum noted earlier this week that he ran out of gas in the Finals and the Celtics are hoping to not dig such a big hole early in the upcoming season despite a schedule that ought to challenge them early.
Despite the long trek to get back to the Finals, Udoka believes his team is ready to start that march despite a shortened offseason.
“I think you have some extra motivation there, just losing in the Finals, getting to that stage and then not finishing the deal,” said Udoka. “We all still have a sour taste in our mouth about it. Everywhere you go, people say congrats on the season but you didn’t get it done. And so that should motivate everybody alone.”
Udoka said he’d been in Los Angeles lately to check in with the core of the Celtics team including Tatum, Jaylen Brown,
“That’s the plan,” Udoka said with a laugh. “Like I said, we took great steps last year. We feel we’ve really improved our roster this year and solidified our bench with some veteran guys.
“… Then just the natural growth and progression within our team. You look at Jayson, Jaylen, Rob, these guys that have been around for everything but they’re still a very young age. And then you’ve got a guy like Grant Williams and Payton Pritchard and Derrick [White] who was added to our team midseason, those guys kind of being with us last year and having that big role only helps us going forward. The additions [of Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari] are great, I think we’re better for that.
“But also, as I’ve mentioned quite a few times, us going back and forth with the players knowing us and us knowing them, we’ll all be better for it going forward.
“So that’s the plan: to get back and finish the deal this time.”