MIAMI (AP) — Somewhere, Gregg Popovich has to be content.
Ime Udoka and Steve Kerr played for Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs, both of whom were his assistant coaches, and neither tries to hide the closeness they feel to the NBA career-winning leader.
And now Udoka and Kerr are about to come face to face – in the NBA Finals.
Title matchup set: Udoka and the Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics take on Kerr and the Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors in a series starting Thursday night in San Francisco. The teams split their two regular season meetings, each winning on their home floor.
The Warriors have been waiting for an opponent since last Thursday after taking just five games to beat Dallas for the Western title. The Celtics have come a long way, winning Game 7 in Miami on Sunday night to win the east.
“We stayed with it. We believed in each other. We made a defensive commitment,” said Celtics forward Al Horford, who is reaching the NBA Finals for the first time after 141 playoff games. “That was the most important thing – to defend.”
For the Celtics, this is a chance to win the 18th NBA championship, which will break the tie with the Los Angeles Lakers and become the biggest in the history of the league. For the Warriors, it’s a chance for a seventh crown to break the tie with the Chicago Bulls for third in league history.
It is also a rematch of the 1964 Finals, when Bill Russell and the Celtics defeated the Warriors in five games.
“I’ve said it many times: you’re going to the finals, it’s almost a two-month journey filled with stress and fatigue and everything,” said Kerr, who gave his team Friday and Saturday off before returning to work on Sunday. . “So if you can take a little break, that’s very important. Hopefully we can get better, have a few days of really good preparation and be ready to go on Thursday.”
Golden State won in Boston 111-107 on December 17, 30 points behind Stephen Curry. The Celtics swept through Golden State’s home park in a rematch on March 16, winning 110-88 in a game in which Curry injured his leg – and that ended his regular season.
Curry was ready to make the playoffs. Just like the rest of the warriors. They are 12-4 in the playoffs and beat Denver, Memphis and Dallas to advance to the title round.
“It all starts with Steph,” Kerr said.
Udoka has a shot at becoming the 10th coach to win the title in his first season. Eddie Gottlieb (Philadelphia Warriors, 1947), Buddy Jeanette (Baltimore Bullets, 1948), John Kundla (Minneapolis Lakers, 1949), George Senesky (Philadelphia Warriors, 1956), Paul Westhead (Los Angeles Lakers, 1980), Pat Riley ( Los Angeles Lakers, 1982) Tyrone Liu (Cleveland Cavaliers, 2016) and Nick Nurse (Toronto Raptors, 2019) are eight coaches who have accomplished this feat.
Another name on this list is Kerr, who made it to Golden State in 2015, at the start of that Warriors streak of greatness. It was the start of six finals in eight years, with two exceptions where injuries and squad resets kept them out of the playoffs in 2020 and 2021.
“You can’t take it for granted,” Curry said after the West title episode. “Nothing is ever guaranteed. We understand how hard it is to win. We’ve been saying this until we’re blue in the face for the past two years. it’s the whole year. Now we have the opportunity to go finish the job.”
Udoka played for Popovich, and later was an assistant for San Antonio. Kerr played for the Spurs and then helped Popovich on the US basketball team at the Tokyo Olympics last summer, when the Americans won their fourth consecutive gold medal.
Draymond Green of the Warriors was on that Olympic team. So is Jason Tatum from Boston. They celebrated the gold medal together, and now they will try to go through each other to get fingerprints on the gold trophy that goes to NBA champions Larry O’Brien.
“It’s an opportunity players dream of,” said Golden State’s Andrew Wiggins. “To be able to win it all.”
And at least the Warriors-Celtics game made Green prophetic.
After the Warriors won in the West, Green attended a post-game TNT broadcast and was coaxed by Shaquille O’Neal into saying which then-undecided team in the East’s title series he would like to play for.
Green began to issue a diplomatic response, stating that both the Heat and the Celtics were tough. O’Neill insisted that he be honest, and Greene, never at a loss for words, gave in.
“You ask me who I want to play. I’ll tell you who I think we’ll play: we’ll play Boston,” Greene said Thursday night. “That’s who we’re going to play.”
He was right.