Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla has found out just how quickly narratives can change in the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals.
The Celtics fell into a 3-0 hole in the series, which had NBA prognosticators and fans ready for Boston to send Mazzulla on the next flight out of Logan Airport. The Celtics themselves even had some less-than glowing reviews of the rookie head coach earlier in the postseason, with Marcus Smart saying he had “rightfully” been the subject of criticism.
Now, Boston is one win away from its second consecutive NBA Finals appearance, which has Mazzulla receiving all the praise he can handle.
“Joe seems to stay calm,” Jaylen Brown said following Game 6, per TNT. “Joe took all blame, he tried to dive on the sword, but in reality we was all in this together. We all had to make adjustments. I had to see the game — he pulled me aside and said, ‘This is where the game is going to be played. It’s not always going to be you scoring the ball, so find a way to make an impact, whether its rebounding, whether it’s your defense, your presence.’
“Joe’s been in our ear this whole time. It’s his first year, but he’s got a poise, he’s got a mentality that keeps us in games and now we back in it.”
The Celtics were rightfully riding high following Derrick White’s miraculous shot to send things back to TD Garden, but Brown’s praise for Mazzulla has been echoed throughout Boston’s attempt at a historic comeback.
Mazzulla was forced to defend his timeout strategy in the early portions of the series. His decision not to play Grant Williams in Game 1 and roll with Al Horford over Robert Williams III ruffled quite a few feathers. In both instances, the 34-year-old has adjusted, seemingly calling perfect timeouts over the course of the Celtic’s three wins and making Grant Williams one of the primary defenders on Heat star Jimmy Butler.
The adjustment he didn’t make, continuing to play Al Horford to start and end each game, has worked out just fine.
The job is far from finished for Boston, but no matter the outcome of Game 7 at TD Garden, it appears Mazzulla will be hanging onto his role as Celtics head coach.