Joe Mazzulla sends message with surprise move in Celtics that…

Joe Mazzulla spent the majority of his first year as coach of the Celtics looking like a player’s coach first and foremost. It was an understandable trait for the 35-year-old who was handed the interim role just days before training camp after Ime Udoka’s suspension. For a title contender, Mazzulla was going to need the buy-in of his stars to survive and succeed. Ultimately, he earned their trust and that of the team as a whole, gaining the full-time gig midway through last season.

Mazzulla spent much of last season catering to his stars on a variety of fronts, even after he was given the full-time job. He left in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown for long stretches even in Boston blowout wins to help them pile up big numbers. A benching of either star or any top rotation player virtually never happened, whether it be for performance or effort. Mazzulla defended his players through thick and thin, sometimes to a fault during some ugly postseason stretches.

This season though, Mazzulla has looked far more comfortable with his role and we’ve seen some of that already with his coaching. He’s trying more things, getting more creative with defenses and becoming more unpredictable as a coach with his schemes. The net result has been positive for Boston through an 11-2 start.

On Sunday night, he took another important coaching step against the Grizzlies, showing a different side when it came to handling his top talent. After a sluggish start to the third quarter where Brown drew a technical foul for complaining to officials well after a play and Tatum was lacking hustle on a tranition defensive possessions, Mazzulla made a rarely seen move. He pulled his two stars together along with Jrue Holiday for the final 7:10 of the third quarter. That’s a move Mazzulla has rarely made in his career and certainly not one he’s done in a close game on the road ever.

“One, to develop a group, another identity, to be able to play some basketball without those guys,” Mazzulla told reporters about the reasoning for his choice. “I didn’t think we were playing very well so I wanted to find a lineup that could kind of go on a run for us. First night of a back-to-back so I didn’t want the minutes to be too high. …I thought it was an opportunity to find a better rhythm, find a better lineup and look to go on a little bit of a run there.”

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