Celtics

9 takeaways as Celtics earn first win of Ime Udoka’s tenure

"I told the guys it’s overdue. It took you too long to get it."

Celtics Rockets takeaways
Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum drives around Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green. AP Photo/Michael Wyke

Here are the takeaways as the Celtics beat the Rockets 107-97 on Sunday to earn the first win of Ime Udoka’s career as a head coach.

1. The Celtics soaked Udoka (and the game ball) with water in the locker room after the win.

“I told the guys it’s overdue,” Udoka quipped to reporters. “It took you too long to get it. Thank Jaylen [Brown] and Romeo [Langford] for helping, seeing as how they sat out tonight.”

Then he got serious.

“It’s good to get a win, not just for the first, but to get us rolling on the right foot,” he said. “Played the right way tonight, defended how we could after that first quarter. More important than the first win, it’s how we go forward. May look at the ball some day, but it’s on the Charlotte now, that’s how I’m thinking.”

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Udoka can say what he wants about moving on to Charlotte, but his big grin as time wound down spoke volumes.

“I can only imagine being a head coach, first head coaching job in the NBA, just to get that off your back, get the first one out the way,” Jayson Tatum said. “I’m sure it means a lot to him, his family. I’m happy for him.”

2. Grant Williams impressed once again with his best game of the season to date — 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting, 5-for-7 from deep. Udoka said Williams’ versatility helped separate him among the team’s power forwards in training camp.

“Biggest thing for me is just trying to stay consistent throughout the whole year,” Williams said. “Not go through ups and downs, just be a person who is relied on and is reliable. That’s my most important thing. Everything else will take care of itself.”

Williams’ shooting is crucial. Before the season, he reached out to Udoka to see what would help him get on the floor.

“Get that 3-point percentage up to 40 and defend,” Udoka recalled telling Williams.

Sure enough, Williams is 9-for-13 from the 3-point line so far, and the weight he lost helps him stay in front of more players. Remaking his body (again) was a challenge, but he said he recognizes the importance of helping a team in multiple ways.

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“It’s a difficult job, but it’s what I signed up for: Providing value to this team in any way possible, whatever they need me to do,” Williams said. “And that’s something that I’ve tried to take pride in, being a versatile guy — a guy that can stay on the floor no matter what situation is on. If I ever get to a point to where that’s not that important to me, I’ll be out this league.”

3. Here’s why Williams’ 3-point shooting matters.

In the double pick-and-roll, the Rockets got lost trying to trap Schröder and stick with the rolling Robert Williams. If Grant Williams can punish defenders, sets like that are going to be hard to contain. The spacing in that unit — Schröder, Smart, Richardson, and both Williams’s — could be disastrous, but Grant Williams is a major boost if he’s knocking down triples.

4. Schröder did not start well, but his performance in the second half was much more encouraging — he finished with 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting and collapsed the defense with his devastatingly quick first step.

The Dennis Schröder experience might be an odd one. The Celtics desperately need him to score, but they also need more floor spacing which he doesn’t provide. Getting Schröder in motion toward the hoop is useful, but surrounding him with shooters could be a challenge with the options on the roster (again, 40-percent shooting from Grant Williams would be huge).

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5. Robert Williams had his first quiet game of the season, save for this pass — easily the best one thrown by a Celtics player through three games.

6. The Rockets are going to lose a lot of games this season, but they have some really fun young talent. Most notable, of course, is No. 2 pick Jalen Green, who poured in 30 points in just his first NBA game on a scalding 8-for-10 from 3-point range. Green’s year with the G-League Ignite seems to have prepared him well for the NBA game — he looks poised and calm, until he gets out in transition.

Meanwhile, the Rockets’ other rookie Alperen Sengun — a 7-foot center drafted with the pick the Celtics dealt to the Thunder along with Kemba Walker in exchange for Al Horford — showed some flashes of high-level footwork in the post and passing vision (seven points, four rebounds, four assists, three steals).

Christian Wood and Kevin Porter Jr. were castoffs elsewhere but can play a real NBA role. The Rockets, presumably, will have another chance to add to a fun young core this offseason with a high lottery pick, but the vision for the future is pretty clear.

“They’re going to be a good young team,” Udoka said. “… [Rockets coach Stephen] Silas is doing a great job developing these guys and giving them confidence. You can see it in the way they play.”

A quick aside: The NBC Sports Boston broadcast noted that Jalen Green is “motivated” because he felt he should be the No. 1 pick, which is pretty funny when you consider Green’s thoughts on the team who had the No. 1 pick.

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7. Aaron Nesmith is yet to make a field goal this season after a very promising Summer League and preseason. He was 0-for-4 on Sunday on four 3-point attempts. The Celtics’ offense has a supply-chain shortage of 3-pointers, so getting Nesmith going would help.

8. Perhaps the most concerning takeaway is how the Celtics continue to struggle to get to the free-throw line. They took only 20 on Sunday, and Tatum managed just four despite a bounce-back performance.

“We tell them don’t settle against certain matchups,” Udoka said. “Attack downhill, get yourself to the free throw line, get a shot at the rim or get somebody else a shot. It depends on who it is and how their night is going whether they take a 3 or attack, but we really want them to get downhill.”

Not for the first time (and probably not for the last): Tatum scored 31 points on Sunday. He could probably average something close to that if he averages 7-8 free throws per game.

9. Still, Tatum looked more like himself — 31 points on 12-for-24 shooting (4-for-11 from 3-point range). At one point in the first half, Tatum took a pair of defenders and dropped off a perfect pass to Horford under the rim for an easy layup. The Rockets called timeout, and Udoka and Tatum shared a laugh as the latter made his way to the bench.

Udoka said right before the play, he was yelling at Tatum not to settle.

“It looked like he was going to take a shot,” Udoka said. “We actually drew it up for a tight-in-the-corner pick-and-roll. And once he dropped it off, I said, ‘Let me stop telling you what to do out there. I never averaged 27 a game. So you make the right decision.’ …

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“I trust him that no matter where we put him. He’s going to make the right choice most of the time.”

The Celtics take on the Hornets at 7 p.m. on Monday.

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