Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla spent the entirety of the 2023-24 season helping formulate Boston’s identity, resulting in a league-leading 64 wins which, in hindsight, wasn’t good enough for the NBA Coaches Association.

On Monday, the NBCA announced its 2024 Coach of the Year: Oklahoma City’s Mark Daigneault. The Thunder, with the third-youngest roster in the NBA, finished as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference at 57-25 while ending the regular season on a five-game winning streak. Commendable? Absolutely.

Daigneault did a tremendous job pushing Oklahoma City to perform well ahead of its years while contending with conference foes like the reigning champion Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Clippers — going 7-4 versus the trio this season.

Yet, all things considered, how does Mazzulla finish behind Daigneault?

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Granted, the recognition isn’t the league’s official COTY award, but it does speak volumes. Since fellow coaches — aka Mazzulla’s colleagues — had the final say, what didn’t they see from the Celtics this season? Boston did everything, winning 64 games, clinching the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference before anyone else behind them secured a playoff spot, losing no more than twice consecutively and rarely raising a red flag. What’s missing?

Mazzulla, who couldn’t care less for anything non-Celtics-centric, previously emphasized that building a rapport with other NBA coaches isn’t important.

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“How do I say this nicely? I don’t care,” Mazzulla explained ahead of a December matchup with the Sixers. “But I also have respect for people. Like, I learn from every coach, I think they’re a lot of great coaches in the league. I’ve studied what other teams do, but as far as having an off-court relationship with a coach? I don’t. That’s like last on the list.”

No stranger to catching flak, Mazzulla broke the unofficial rule during the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament in November. Matched up with the Bulls, Mazzulla targeted Boston’s point-differential requirement to compete in the tournament, going as far as hacking Chicago center Andre Drummond.

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Again, that’s far from the norm, especially for an early-season game with very little meaning for a team like Boston. But if it means the Celtics could accomplish something of value — big or small — Mazzulla’s all in. That level of commitment can’t be questioned, even on nights when the Celtics fail to show up or lean too heavily on their semi-effective 3-point shooting.

Last season, guard Payton Pritchard sunk in Boston’s depth chart to the point of being at the forefront of trade rumors. Questions corned the undersized role player once Boston signed Pritchard to a four-year, $30 million extension in the offseason, regarding how he’d fit in.

Now, with the regular season all wrapped up, the doubt surrounding Pritchard fell off. Mazzulla played a factor in removing the pressure off Prichard’s back and entrusting the Oregon product to find his footing. Pritchard averaged a career-high 9.6 points on 46.8% shooting while leading the Celtics with a 4.6 assist-to-turnover ratio in 82 games.

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Mazzulla’s even looked outside of the NBA for inspiration, admitting to having integrated NFL defensive schemes into Boston’s playbook.

But most importantly, Mazzulla made sure the Celtics maintained a team-first mindset. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown didn’t aim for career-high scoring numbers. At the All-Star Game in Indianapolis, then-starter Tatum requested his minutes be handed off to Brown so he could compete for the MVP. The locker room has routinely operated under that mindset and it’s been contagious among the entire roster, regardless of who’s on the floor.

Ultimately, Mazzulla and Daigneault will be tasked with backing their respective No. 1 seeds when it matters the most: in the postseason.

Featured image via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images