Joe Mazzulla Admits To This Mistake After Celtics’ Game 4 Loss

The Celtics coach knows he should've called timeout


May 8, 2023

Celtics first-year head coach Joe Mazzulla admitted to a fault Monday when speaking to reporters less than 24 hours after Boston’s Game 4 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center.

Despite the backing of Al Horford, Jayson Tatum and other Celtics immediately after the 116-115 defeat, Mazzulla acknowledged how he should have called a timeout in the final seconds of overtime when Boston’s offense struggled to get into position for a final shot attempt. After a James Harden 3-pointer went through the net with 18.2 seconds left, Boston inbounded the ball and proceeded to take precious time off the clock before Tatum drove to the rim with some four ticks remaining. Tatum sent a pass to Smart for a 3-pointer, but the delayed possession resulted in Smart being unable to unleash the shot before the buzzer.

Mazzulla was questioned about the decision after the game and expressed how the Celtics needed to play with more pace in that moment. He followed up Monday, though, and acknowledged how he should have called a timeout, especially when he saw Boston’s offense was not playing fast enough.

“I thought the end of regulation it worked out, we got the last shot, which is what you want. You don’t want to give them an opportunity,” Mazzulla told reporters on a video conference, per CLNS Media. “At the end of overtime, hindsight is 20/20. I should have called it (a timeout) to help us get a 2-for-1 or help us get a couple more possessions. And so, obviously, with 14 seconds left, down one (point) you want to get as many chances as you can. So definitely learn from that.”

Mazzulla credited hindsight for his updated outlook.

“You just learn. Obviously, if it doesn’t go well it’s a mistake,” Mazzulla said. “I think the two lessons you learn from that are call it right away, get a 2-for-1, get two shots, get a couple extra possessions or we have to have a clear understanding as a team that we have to go faster to get a shot. We’ve done both over the course of the season we just didn’t execute either one in that particular situation. But in that standpoint, once we’re losing pace, I’ve got to call it so we can get a shot up earlier.”

Mazzulla has been criticized throughout much of the season for his reluctance to call timeouts in pivotal moments. It was the case in one of Boston’s first-round losses to the Atlanta Hawks, as well. Instead of doing so, Mazzulla puts his trust in his team, hoping they figure it out on the floor as opposed to doing so in a huddle. As it specifically relates to Sunday’s loss, Mazzulla explained how the Sixers changed coverages and substitutions in previous late-game situations, and Boston opting not to call a timeout allowed the Celtics the opportunity to keep Tyrese Maxy on defense and Joel Embiid spaced.

“It’s something we’ve talked about all year, I trust our guys to make the right play,” Mazzulla said. “It prevents the other team from getting matchups off the floor, it prevents the other team from getting their defense organized. Hindsight is 20/20. So it sounds good to say ‘Yes, we should have done this,’ but we’ve prepared all year as a team to be able to take advantage of those situations. More times than not it worked out for us.”

There’s a fine line between not calling a timeout at the start of the 18-second possession and not calling it when the Celtics were disorganized, though. And Mazzulla seemingly gained that understanding in a pivotal postseason spot.

Thumbnail photo via Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports Images
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