The two teams meet again next Sunday in Houston and Udoka will certainly have different coverages, but he had to admit that they’ve made a significant ascension since he departed. Udoka thought he had a capable defense against two players he’s quite familiar with.

Last March in Utah, former Celtics assistant Will Hardy trapped Tatum at every opportunity, and it led to a season-low in field goal attempts and his fourth-lowest scoring total. Udoka’s familiarity appeared to be an advantage, especially since he’s such a defensive maven — but his prior knowledge made no difference.

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“Showing more of a crowd for Jayson, more bodies on Jayson and Jaylen early,” Udoka said when asked of his defensive strategy. “I think our rotations were really slow in the first half, allowed them to get some early threes off. You want to try to break their rhythm, be a little more physical with them.”

Tatum has been on a tear in January, averaging 29.8 points in six games on 51.4 percent shooting and 55.6 (25 for 45) from the 3-point line, and that included last week’s debacle against the Milwaukee Bucks. Tatum made 33 3-point shots (on 32.4 percent) in all of December.

“You’re just in a rhythm,” he said about his streak. “You know that you’re playing well lately and shooting the ball really well lately as an individual and we have as a group. You just want to stay in that zone for as long as you can.”

When NBC Sports Boston reporter Abby Chin referred to him as “January Jayson,” he seemed intrigued by the moniker.

“Is that a thing?” he said with a smile. “I just try to get better from month to month each season and hopefully play my best basketball going into the playoffs.

“You play so many games, there’s going to be stretches where you don’t shoot the ball well. There’s going to be stretches where you shoot really well, and I hope I have more of those stretches.”

Brown’s resurgence has been season long, backing up his league-topping $307 million contract. While his scoring average is down because he’s taking 2½ fewer shots per game, Brown’s field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and offensive rating are all above last season.

In his past 20 games, he’s shooting 53.5 percent from the field, 39.3 percent from the 3-point line along with 24.6 points per game. Brown has unquestionably turned himself into a no-doubt All-Star this season.

“I still think I have a lot of potential that I have tapped into and I’m learning the game,” he said. “It’s a beautiful game to watch or play, and I’m having fun learning and trying to reach my full potential on top of being a team guy on top of making sure our guys are in the right spots, being a leader. It’s been fun trying to figure out how to be the best version of Jaylen Brown.

“As the time has gone on, as the years have gone on, I feel like I’ve gotten better each and every year and I don’t think that’s not going to stop any time soon.”

The difference between the Celtics whom Udoka coached and now is also the presence of Kristaps Porzingis and an improved Derrick White. Udoka inherited White after the mid-season trade from the San Antonio Spurs and gave him responsibility that he sometimes could not handle.

In that 26-game regular-season stint White played for Udoka, he shot 30.6 percent from the 3-point line and 50.4 percent on 2-point shots. In 23 playoff games, White shot 31.3 percent from the 3-point line and just 40.9 percent on twos. In 1½ seasons since, White is shooting 39.1 percent on 3-pointers and 55 percent on twos.

White’s offensive improvement has been one of the bigger developments for this team in the past two years. It’s almost as if the Celtics acquired another All-Star caliber player when White returned for his first full season in Boston.

Udoka may have some more defensive wrinkles when the Celtics come to Toyota Center on Jan. 21. But he watched first hand that this team — with Jrue Holiday replacing Marcus Smart; Porzingis replacing Robert Williams; and an improved Sam Hauser and Payton Pritchard — are better offensively and defensively than the team he coached to the NBA Finals.

Will the Celtics get to that point this season? Their chances are better than any other team in the Eastern Conference, but that improvement and attention to detail will have to continue indefinitely.

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @GwashburnGlobe.


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