Joe Mazzulla Flounders In Final Seconds In Celtics’ Loss To Heat

Mazzulla froze at the end of the game


Jan 24, 2023

Boston Celtics interim head coach Joe Mazzulla has held tightly onto his timeouts throughout this season.

But he held onto them for way too long Tuesday night and it proved very costly in Boston’s 98-95 loss to the Miami Heat at Miami-Dade Arena.

With two timeouts in his pocket, after a jump shot from Bam Adebayo gave the Heat a 97-95 lead with 20.1 seconds remaining, Mazzulla elected not to use either one he had available. Instead, Tatum walked the ball up the floor, which only wasted time, before the Heat sent two defenders at him with only a few ticks remaining.

The Celtics were clearly disjointed at that moment and it would have been a perfect time for Mazzulla to step in. But he only watched it all unfold from the sideline. In other words, he froze.

In a situation when the Celtics needed a shot to either tie or go in front, they didn’t even get one off. Tatum forced a cross-court pass that Tyler Herro intercepted with a second left, which more or less sealed the game.

The inexperience of Mazzulla, the youngest head coach this season in the NBA, certainly showed in that moment and he knew there was more he could have done instead of withering in the pressure-packed sequence.

“That’s on me to put (Tatum) in a better situation,” Mazzulla told reporters as seen on NBC Sports Boston postgame coverage. “But I thought they had their offensive lineup on the floor, and they weren’t going to let him get something but if we can get two on the ball. But again, I got to put up a better play that kind of allows him to see that better. He couldn’t see the two-on-one well enough. So, I got to call a better play there.”

There was an easy solution at Mazzulla’s disposal to get in a better play. He could have just put two hands together, walked onto the floor and called a timeout. That would have allowed him to settle down his players and make sure those on the floor were on the same page to execute a last-second play.

But Mazzulla reasoned that he didn’t want to give the Heat a chance to adjust with the ball in Tatum’s hands and with Miami’s more offensive-laden unit on the floor. It’s a solid explanation except for the fact that if Tatum’s going to be an MVP, Mazzulla should like whatever matchup the Celtics star has in front of him.

Tatum doesn’t go without blame here, either. His pass was horrendous, one that is usually reserved for high schoolers.

But Mazzulla could have saved him from that terrible turnover in the first place but chose not to. And if the situation arises again, don’t expect Mazzulla to do anything differently even though he should learn from his mistake.

“I don’t know if there is a balance,” Mazzulla said of calling a timeout in that situation. “For me, I’m sitting there and I’m saying, ‘If we call one, they get their defensive lineup in. They may go zone. They may go man. You’re not really sure. They may blitz, they may switch, they may maintain. You’re not really sure.’

“What I did know was the absolutes. The absolute was we had the ball in our best player’s hands. I knew because of their offensive lineup, they were going to play this coverage. I just didn’t call the right play. I have to call a better play to get the better spacing for him to see it better.”

Thumbnail photo via Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports Images
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