BOSTON — Boston Celtics interim head coach Joe Mazzulla soaked in his first career victory Tuesday night, both figuratively and literally.
Mazzulla, who rose to this position just prior to the start of training camp due to the Ime Udoka scandal, took time to appreciate moments throughout his first game as an NBA head coach. Then following a 126-117 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden, Mazzulla received a celebratory shower from his players, which left him drenched.
But that hardly put any damper on a milestone moment for the youngest coach in the NBA.
“It was cool,” Mazzulla said. “As I said, I’m grateful to the players for the relationship that we have. And I’m really grateful that they trust me and we trust each other and that they were able to show that type of buy in. So, when we do things together, we have a huge opportunity.”
Usually laser-focused, Mazzulla did allow for that concentration to break, even for just a second, and let a moment or two wash over him, especially at the beginning of the game when the Celtics held a pregame ceremony to honor the late Bill Russell.
“There are small moments building that awareness of what’s going on around you,” Mazzulla said. “The Bill Russell ceremony brought a lot of gratitude and it brought a lot of perspective to what it means to coach the Celtics and be a Celtic. So, that entire time was geared for that and gratitude for that.
“And then throughout the game just finding small moments and going up to your guys and saying how much fun it is. It doesn’t always have to be the most serious thing. And what’s fun is watching those guys compete and watching those guys execute.”
Despite his youthfulness and inexperience, Mazzulla didn’t seem overwhelmed on the sideline, pushing the necessary buttons as the Celtics took control in the third quarter and pulled away from the 76ers.
“I think he’s been great,” Jaylen Brown said. “Joe is tough as nails, even when in the midst of everything, all the turmoil. I mean, you look into his eyes, you can tell he way ready. So coming out, we get to see on the floor: Composed, calm, ready, strategic. I’m looking forward to seeing more from him and I’m looking forward to building that relationship.”
While the tribute to Bill Russell helped Mazzulla appreciate the moment, so did a sequence at the end of the game. With the Celtics coasting to a win, the fans in attendance broke out in a “Let’s go Celtics” chant. Mazzulla heard the praise and it told him everything he needed to know about his first performance on the sideline.
“I pride myself in Boston fans and the city of Boston,” Mazzulla said. “And when they’re cheering for you it means you’re doing something right.”