Marcus Smart Defends Celtics Coach Joe Mazzulla Despite ‘Rightful’ Criticism

'Joe's learning, just like all of us'


May 11, 2023

The Boston Celtics went into Philadelphia and forced Game 7 with a win on the road despite head coach Joe Mazzulla taking a lot of criticism throughout the playoffs.

Celtics guard Marcus Smart said Game 6 against the 76ers would be a dogfight after the Game 5 embarrassing loss in Boston, but knew the last thing the team needed to do was have anxiety on the court.

“We’ve been here. We’ve been in the closeout game where we messed up at home and have to go on the road and get it back,” Smart said on NBC Sports Boston’s postgame coverage. “So, there’s no reason for us to be stressed out. Just go out there and do what we do.”

While the players have to take ownership of what plays out on the court, Mazzulla has been called-out for poor decision-making earlier in the series, but the lineup changes ahead of Thursday’s game with Robert Williams getting the start gave Mazzulla a bit of a reprieve.

“I was proud to have him on the court,” Smart said of Williams. “That just goes to show, Joe’s learning, just like all of us. I know he’s been killed a lot. Rightfully so. You know he needs to make adjustments, and he did that and that’s all you can ask for. Just be the best he can, and it takes everybody. It’s a full team effort.”

Smart said that while Mazzulla is learning what it means to be an NBA coach in the postseason, the Celtics are teaching him as much as he is teaching them.

“It’s different, but it helps us as players because when you think about it in the grand scheme, we’re teaching him as well,” Smart said. “And we’re teaching ourselves. We get to learn more about ourselves.

“It allows Jayson, it allows Jaylen, it allows me to be more vocal on the court and to go figure things out and we do it together. So you know, it’s not going to be perfect. Joe’s not perfect. He was put in a very tough situation. He’s here, and he’s doing the best he can and that’s all we can ask for. We’re going to continue to go out there and work our tails off for him just like he’s gonna go out there and continue to work his tail off for us.”

Smart knows the players on the court are the ones that will ultimately win or lose the series and he did his part in Game 6 leading the Celtics in scoring with 22 points to go along with his seven rebounds, seven assists and two steals in 42 minutes of playing time.

“The team that we have, the group of guys that we have, we’re experienced, and you know, we’re the ones on the court. Joe can only do so much,” Smart said. “Joe does a great job and his staff does a great job putting us in the right positions. We just got to go out there and execute. I know he takes a lot of the wrath from us, but he’s not on the court. So you know, we’re on a court and we have to be able to adjust even if he’s not doing it as to the standard that we would want or you know, everybody wants, we see what’s going on and we have to help him.”

The Celtics will host the Sixers on Sunday at TD Garden in the decisive Game 7. The winner advances to the Eastern Conference Final and the loser goes home to ponder what they could have done differently. Tipoff has not been announced.

Thumbnail photo via Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports Images
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