The Celtics got Ime Udoka his first win, but near-term challenges remain

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Forsberg: Udoka's first win a brief moment of joy for Celtics originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The empty plastic bottles piled up at Ime Udoka’s feet.

A towel flew in with zero chance of soaking up any of the ongoing tsunami. Amid the clapping and celebratory roar for Udoka’s first victory as a head coach, Dennis Schroder’s arms motored like a human windmill as he excitedly sprayed water in Udoka’s general direction. A pair of game shorts hilariously came flying at the coach at the end of it all.

Yes, a couple of social media glimpses suggested it was quite a scene inside the visitor’s locker room in Houston as the Celtics celebrated a 107-97 triumph at the Toyota Center.

The first regular-season week on the job was tough for all members of the 2021-22 Celtics. The green dropped a double-overtime heartbreaker in New York, got embarrassed in their home-opener against Toronto, and dealt with the typical barrage of bad health news.

So downplay it as they later did, taking one minute to savor a milestone moment for their new coach mattered to this team. It’s fleeting for sure -- especially with an early season showdown against the undefeated Hornets looming on Monday night -- but it was better than lamenting all that’s gone wrong out of the gates this season.

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It took long enough,” deadpanned Jayson Tatum, whose 31 points helped the Celtics take control after an underwhelming first half. “But happy for [Udoka]. 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. I’m sure it means a lot to him, his family. I'm happy for him.”

It means a lot to his players, too. After Boston’s season-opener in New York, Jaylen Brown noted how important it was for him to simply suit up, this despite Brown coming straight out of a COVID quarantine, because it was Udoka’s first game at the helm. Robert Williams made certain that Udoka ended up with the game ball after the final buzzer in Sunday’s win and it got its own bath as Udoka clutched the ball as he wandered into the downpour.

"It was dope just because that's a historic win for him,” said Grant Williams, who tried to get Udoka to do a flying body bump after the final horn but Udoka maintained his composure. "That’s his first of many [wins] and he's been a great, not only mentor to me, but great coach and great person since the moment he walked through the door.

"We all think highly of him and we're fortunate to have him here. So we just wanted to show him that love and that respect that he deserves as our head coach to get his first win in the NBA.”

Whirling dervish Schroder noted how Udoka has maintained a “positive energy” despite the early struggles and pledged that both Udoka and the Celtics would get better together this season.

Sunday’s win wasn’t exactly a masterpiece. Beggars can’t be choosers. There are positives the Celtics can pluck -- the steadying presence of Al Horford, Tatum’s efficiency, Schroder’s second-half play, and Grant Williams emerging as Boston’s most efficient 3-point threat early in the season. But there’s also plenty to clean up and Monday’s visit to Charlotte will tell us a lot more about where this team stands in the infancy of the season.

It’ll probably be a while before another victory is celebrated like that. The Celtics are hoping they’ll start to blend together a bit for Udoka. But even that brief chance to exhale was just what this team needed amid the bumpy start.

And, whatever happens next in the Udoka era, that celebration will always be one of the first mile markers in the journey.