Joe Mazzulla shows critical evolution in Celtics win over Knicks

Boston Celtics’ head coach, Joe Mazzulla, faced a familiar challenge in the game against the New York Knicks on October 25, 2023. The Celtics had struggled in clutch situations last season, and it appeared history might repeat itself when they fell behind 99-93 in the fourth quarter, squandering a 12-point lead from the first half. Their offense was stagnant, and Mazzulla called a timeout with 4:10 left on the clock.

In a similar scenario last year, the Celtics might not have been able to turn the game around due to their late-game offensive struggles. However, this time was different as the Celtics staged an impressive 15-5 run to secure a 108-104 victory.

A significant factor in their success was Kristaps Porzingis, who contributed 30 points and made crucial shots in the final minutes, punishing defenses that double-teamed Jayson Tatum.

Joe Mazzulla is already making his mark - CelticsBlog

But the improvement extended beyond individual performances; there were noticeable coaching changes that played a role in the Celtics’ comeback. Mazzulla had emphasized his evolving coaching philosophy in the preseason, and some of these changes were evident in crunch time during this game.

One key adjustment was giving Derrick White a more prominent role in late-game situations. Last season, there was frustration among observers as White often sat on the bench during crucial moments. This year, he was not only on the floor but also had the opportunity to initiate multiple offensive possessions during crunch time. This decision led to positive results, with White breaking a 6-0 Knicks run and setting up plays that improved Boston’s offensive efficiency and unpredictability.

Mazzulla’s strategic use of timeouts also proved crucial. With the Celtics leading 106-104 and Tatum facing a double team, Mazzulla wisely used his remaining timeouts to advance the ball past half-court and avoid an 8-second violation. Furthermore, his decision to substitute Porzingis with Payton Pritchard during this timeout paid off, as Pritchard’s speed and free throw proficiency helped secure the game.

Mazzulla’s willingness to dig deeper into his bench for situational substitutions demonstrated his growth as a coach, a departure from last year’s more conservative approach.

In a forgettable season debut, Jaylen Brown struggled with his shooting, scoring only 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting. It was noticeable that he didn’t receive many touches during crunch time, as the team focused on working plays around Porzingis, White, and Tatum, who collectively fueled the 15-5 run in the game’s final four minutes.

In summary, despite a less-than-stellar performance from beyond the arc, the Celtics managed to secure a victory in their season opener. The improved execution in crunch time and Mazzulla’s adaptability were essential factors in their success, showcasing a positive shift from the previous season.

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