Joe Mazzulla Means So Much to the Celtics, and They Mean So Much to Him

Jun 17, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla holds up the trophy as he celebrates after winning the 2024 NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 17, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla holds up the trophy as he celebrates after winning the 2024 NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports / Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
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With 1:21 remaining in the Boston Celtics' championship-sealing win over the Dallas Mavericks in Game 5, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were subbed off to a standing ovation. As soon as Tatum exited the floor he immediately gave head coach Joe Mazzulla one of the biggest hugs basketball has ever seen.

The scene encapsulated not only the hard work that goes into hanging a banner in the rafters, but also how important it is to have the right man leading the team towards that goal.

"He truly cares about us, and he cares about what it means to be a Celtic," said Al Horford after the win.

Mazzulla does care, even if he doesn't always want to show it during press conferences. During an appearance on the "First to the Floor" podcast back in March, Celtics-great Cedric Maxwell shared a story about a conversation he had had with Joe about winning a championship.

"I talked to Joe Mazzulla the other day," Max told the pod. "He was walking around the court at the Garden before the game... he stops me and says, 'Max which of those banners are yours?' I said, '1981 and 1984.' He said, 'You know, I would do anything, ANYTHING, to bring another banner.' Literally, he had tears in his eyes."

As easy as it may seem to pin the team's success solely on the many talented players that they have, Mazzulla absolutely deserves credit for keeping them focused through all of the noise and expectations.

His guys love him. Just ask Derrick White, who just had the best season of his career and credited Joe for his success.

"Man, I love Joe Mazzulla so much," White told reporters in Boston. "Coming off the year I had, and he gets the job, and he's like, 'You know what? I'm going to start you.' Which I wasn't expecting. He was like, 'I believe in you and I trust in you. This is going to give you the confidence.' And from that moment on, I think it's changed my whole career. I'd do anything for him."

Though the Celtics entered the season with one of the most talented rosters in the NBA, that didn't guarantee them a championship. The league has seen several great "on-paper teams" fail because they weren't able to play together, or because they didn't have the right leadership.

With Boston, that wasn't an issue, despite massive offseason additions like Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis.

Holiday gave the Celtics some incredible minutes throughout their run to the title, after not being asked to do nearly as much in the regular season.

The now two-time NBA Champion, like just about everyone else who got the chance, pointed at Mazzulla as the person who got him to feel comfortable and buy into what was going on with the Cs.


"You know, he really opened my eyes to that and from the beginning really just made it known that whatever it takes, as long as it takes, we've got to get it done, and I'm not the only one on this team sacrificing," Holiday explained. "Everybody on this team sacrificed something."

Even after the job was finished on Monday, Mazzulla pointed to mindset, and how he and his team handled all of the outside noise surrounding them throughout the season. The Rhode Island native was the focal point of loads of criticism last summer, after the Celtics came up short in the Eastern Conference Finals.

He doesn't care. In fact, he believes it's important.

"I feel like it's going to be like that for the rest of my career, as it should be," he said. "I think just having an understanding that praise and criticism are both just as dangerous. And if you don't handle them well, and I think we talked about that as a team this year, like winning is just as dangerous as losing if you don't handle it well."

In Boston, the standard is different than most places around the NBA. It's championship or nothing, and Mazzulla wouldn't want it any other way.

"And it's Boston. Like, we wouldn't want it any other way. I think the ownership and the responsibility to give back to the franchise, give back to the city, that's just part of it."


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Sam LaFrance

SAM LAFRANCE