The Boston Celtics extended their winning streak to three games Tuesday, knocking off the Houston Rockets at TD Garden.
They had to do so without their interim head coach, however.
Joe Mazzulla was scratched from the game just minutes before tipoff with what the team described as “eye irritation.” Mazzulla took part in his pregame press conference but was clearly struggling with the irritation throughout.
That vaulted assistant coach Damon Stoudamire into the head role, marking the first time in his career as an NBA head coach. Perhaps luckily for the 15-year NBA veteran, he didn’t have much time to overthink things.
“I found out five minutes before game time,” Stoudamire told NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin after the game, per the network’s postgame coverage. “So, walking out to the floor dang near. Sometimes it’s better that way.
“It was a lot of fun, but we prepare as a staff each and every game so I’m just carrying out the orders that Joe talks about each and every day.”
The Celtics didn’t seem to find much of a difference between Mazzulla and Stoudamire, with Jayson Tatum providing some comic relief on the situation.
“The only difference was Joe wasn’t over there chewing the (expletive) out some gum,” Tatum said postgame, per NBC Sports Boston.
Stoudamire, a respected player in the league during his 15-year career in which he won the 1996 NBA Rookie of the Year, originally joined Boston’s staff under Ime Udoka in 2021. After Udoka was suspended, Stoudamire stayed on to become the “right-hand man” for the newly promoted Mazzulla.
In his two seasons with the Celtics, Stoudamire has clearly earned the respect of Boston’s core.
“Damon’s one of my favorite people in the organization,” Jaylen Brown said, per MassLive’s Souichi Terada. “Just a veteran, a lot of experiences in different places — playing, coaching, assistant coaching. It was fun to go out there and get a win for him.”
It is unknown how much, if any, time Mazzulla will miss moving forward. If he does, the Celtics now have some assurance they won’t miss a beat in his absence.