Much to learn from Celtics’ playoff run

Posted 5/10/23

The Boston Celtics came up short in Game 4 of their series against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday afternoon, but my biggest takeaway had nothing to do with what happened on the court.

It was a …

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Much to learn from Celtics’ playoff run


The Boston Celtics came up short in Game 4 of their series against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday afternoon, but my biggest takeaway had nothing to do with what happened on the court.

It was a great game. Philly was in control deep in the fourth quarter, but the Celtics turned things around to force overtime.

In the waning seconds of the fourth quarter, Boston had an opportunity to complete the comeback and hit a buzzer-beating shot. Marcus Smart grabbed the pass, threw the shot up, but ultimately it would miss and the teams settled for the extra period.

76ers fans were relieved, Celtics fans were angry. The final moments leading up to the shot were frantic, the players rushed to get that one last shot off.

As the broadcast began showing the slow-motion replays, one thing stood out to me. Once the final shot bounced off the rim, Celtics coach (and of course, Rhode Island native) Joe Mazzulla had a big smile on his face, chuckled and clapped as his team trotted off the court to prepare its game plan for overtime.

The brief moment stood out to me because it was a nice reminder of what sports are about, having fun and enjoying the moment.

Most coaches in that situation would be bothered, ready to pick apart the final moments to pinpoint why the shot was rushed and a bit sloppy. Mazzulla on the other hand was just having a blast competing with his team on the big stage. Sure, he would have liked to see the shot go in, especially considering the team went on to lose, but it was refreshing to see such a positive reaction to such a pivotal point in a playoff game.

I am proud to say that I have a very healthy obsession with sports. Long gone are the days that I get infuriated by a loss or totally exhilarated with a win. It’s probably because I am around sports every day, but I have become kind of callused.

That may sound bad, but it’s the exact opposite. It has made me focus on the bigger picture rather than the straight up results game to game. Don’t get me wrong, some losses still sting, some wins will lift my spirits for a day or two, but generally speaking, I focus more on the broad scope.

When I am in the field covering events, especially during the playoffs, I always take a moment to take a breath and look around to take it all in. Although I may not be as invested as I used to be, it is always a nice shot of adrenaline watching a postseason nail biter, and it is always a nice reminder that there is nothing more fun than being present at one of these events. Certain games bring out every emotion for me, excitement, nerves, nostalgia, peace. That’s what it is all about.

So, seeing Mazzulla’s reaction was such a satisfying few seconds. This is his first playoff experience as a head coach, so I am sure he was thinking along the same lines. Instead of wondering, “Why did that shot not go in?” it appeared that he was thinking more along the lines of, “This is a blast.”

I hate the phrase, “It’s only a game.” I have always hated it because to minimize sports that way is insulting to those playing and watching. Sure, sports should not be taken too seriously when there are far more important things in life to worry about. But at the end of the day, athletes work hard, have the courage to perform, as do the coaches. Fans devote their time and money to cheer these teams on. It may not be life or death, but it is more than just a game.

But to see Mazzulla enjoying the moment that way was great. It was a nice display of leadership and sportsmanship.

Before I sign off, here, I do want to stick with the Celtics and harp on another lesson.

In both the final moments of regulation and overtime, the Celtics had possession with a chance to either win or tie the game. Mazzulla did not call a timeout to draw up a play in either spot and instead let the team play it through.

The Celtics failed to convert on either try and Mazzulla has since gotten some heat for his decision. Most believe that he should have stopped the clock and took a moment to work through the situation. He has also admitted that he probably should have called timeout.

When he decided to let the team play through, I said out loud with those watching, “Good, just go for it.”

There are few things in sports that drive me crazy the way that paralysis by analysis does. There are times when teams are almost too calculated, take too many timeouts, overthink things. Not enough coaches do what Mazzulla did, which is have faith in their team and stick to the game plan.

I know, the decisions did not pay off and in hindsight, maybe they would have been better off. I will say, though, I loved Mazzulla’s decision to see things through, rely on his players and keep their foot on the gas.

Sometimes in sports, you just need to attack. You need to go for it.

I’d urge any coach to take a look at Mazzulla’s approach and consider it moving forward. It’s easy to jump straight to the results, but the approach was correct. It’s playoff time, you have the other team on the ropes, go for it.

pitch, Celtics, basketball


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