Ime Udoka Says Celtics Lack 'Mental Toughness' After Buzzer-Beating Loss to Knicks

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 7, 2022

Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka gestures during the first half of the team's NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
AP Photo/Adam Hunger

RJ Barrett generated the headlines with a banked three-pointer at the buzzer to give the New York Knicks a dramatic 108-105 victory, but it was only possible because the Boston Celtics blew a 16-point halftime lead in Thursday's game.

To hear Celtics head coach Ime Udoka tell it, that is because his team lacks mental toughness.

"It's a lack of mental toughness to fight through those adverse times," he told reporters. "But it's across the board, a missed shot, a defensive mistake here."

He was also asked how to fix the mental-toughness concerns and said: "It's guys getting rattled when it's not the end of the world. You still got a 12-point lead and you gotta end that run. You got to know time and score."

Those are certainly head-turning comments from the first-year head coach, but the season has gone anything but as planned for a Celtics squad that surely envisioned itself as an Eastern Conference contender with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown leading the way.

Boston fell to 18-21 and is even on the outside looking in at the play-in tournament for the Nos. 7-10 seeds in the East.

While players have been in and out of the lineup due to injuries and the league's health and safety protocols, many teams have dealt with the same thing this season. The Celtics look far behind contenders such as the Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat in the conference and are now being called out by their own coach.

Boston is just 5-10 in its last 15 games, but some of the notable comments after blown leads started back in November when the team was outscored 39-11 in the fourth quarter of a loss to the Bulls.

Marcus Smart told reporters things needed to change when he said: "I would just like to play basketball. Every team knows we are trying to go to Jayson and Jaylen and every team is programmed and studies to stop Jayson and Jaylen. I think everybody's scouting report is to make those guys try to pass the ball. They don't want to pass the ball and that's something that they're going to learn."

Tatum was far from the issue Thursday and finished with 36 points, nine assists, six rebounds and two steals while also hitting a game-tying shot in the final seconds before Barrett's winner.

Yet it wasn't enough as the Celtics continued to tumble in the standings and drew the ire of their head coach.