Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla explains attempt to block Suns player's shot following timeout

Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla explains attempt to block Suns player's shot following timeout

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The Boston Celtics remain atop the Eastern Conference standings, and their win over the Phoenix Suns Thursday clinched a spot in the postseason. 

But an unexpected in-game decision by Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla has become a hot topic. 

In the fourth quarter, Celtics star Jaylen Brown intercepted a pass and sprinted the other way for an impressive dunk. The turnover prompted a timeout, and Suns forward Royce O’Neale attempted to shoot the ball shortly after the whistle.

Players often casually throw up a shot that they know won’t count after referees blow the whistle, but coaches do not normally attempt to contest it.

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Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla during the first half against the Phoenix Suns at TD Garden in Boston March 14, 2024. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Mazzulla, a former West Virginia Mountaineers shooting guard, lunged and tried to block O’Neale’s three-pointer, which ultimately bounced off the rim.

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Mazzulla offered an explanation for his actions in the postgame press conference.

“I saw a guy going in to try to get a shot, and he hadn’t made one. And I didn’t want him to feel good about himself going to the bench,” Mazzulla said. “[Boston Globe writer] Gary [Washburn] asked me about that a month ago, and that’s a bench rule. Guys don’t shoot shots in front of our bench to go back to their bench to feel good about themselves. If I’m gonna ask the guys to contest, the staff’s gotta do the same.”

Joe Mazzulla of the Boston Celtics walks on the court

Head coach Joe Mazzulla of the Boston Celtics walks on the court during the first quarter in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat at TD Garden May 29, 2023, in Boston. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Mazzulla suggested his efforts were a reflection of the Celtics’ mindset.

“At the end of the day, it’s about the mindset and the approach that we bring, and it’s within the rules of the game. It’s about setting a tone, and it’s just that,” Mazzulla said. 

“One of the biggest pet peeves is thinking that a guy’s gonna get a free shot, and that’s not the way it works. If we’re gonna hold our team to a standard, we hold our staff to the same thing. There’s been times where we’ve missed it, and I’ve held the staff accountable to it. And we’ve gotta do the best job we can of not doing it.”

Joe Mazzulla talks with his players

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla speaks with Jrue Holiday (4) and Derrick White (9) at TD Garden Jan. 10, 2024, in Boston. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Celtics star Jayson Tatum seemed to approve of his coach’s aggressiveness.

“That’s who Joe is,” Tatum said with a smile. “So, when he did it, I wasn’t caught off guard. I expect him or one of the coaches to do that. Gotta love Joe for Joe.”

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The Celtics’ players seemed to have taken note of Mazzulla’s belief in defense. The team’s defense ranks second in the NBA this season, allowing 110.4 points per 100 possessions.

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