Joe Mazzulla drawing on lessons learned during Celtics’ 2022 Finals run – Boston Herald

Joe Mazzulla is preparing for his first NBA Finals as a head coach. But this isn’t his first taste of basketball’s biggest stage.

Two years ago, Mazzulla was an assistant under Ime Udoka on the Celtics team that reached the final round. Boston won a pair of dramatic series (seven games over Milwaukee, seven games over Miami) to win the Eastern Conference for the first time since 2010, but it couldn’t overcome the last gasp of the Golden State Warriors dynasty, losing the Finals in six.

Mazzulla watched from the bench as those Celtics lost three straight after taking a 2-1 series lead. In two of those losses, they held leads in the final 16 minutes but couldn’t close.

What did that series teach Mazzulla?

Two things: First, that the regular season and postseason aren’t nearly as different as people think — a point he’s driven home repeatedly during Boston’s current playoff run. And second, most games hinge on a small handful of plays.

“What I took away was that there’s nothing different that goes into winning in the regular season and a playoff series,” Mazzulla said in a news conference Thursday. “There’s three or four possessions that could completely change a narrative. … When you get to a certain place, everybody always ignores the ‘what-if’ possessions and they always go to all the good things that we did. And then when you lose, everybody ignores the good things that you did and talks about all the what-if things that you did.

“So what separates winning and losing is obviously a mindset and toughness and execution, but things also have to go your way. Jimmy Butler hits that three two years ago, maybe we don’t go (to the Finals). Everybody always forgets about the five to 10 plays that can really have an impact.”

The Celtics experienced that already in this postseason.

After reeling off a string of blowout wins in the first two rounds, they’re coming off a sweep of Indiana in the East finals that featured three nail-biters. Boston dominated in crunch time, overcoming late deficits to win Games 1, 3 and 4, but Mazzulla said they “might not be sitting here” had a few pivotal plays not gone in their favor.

Mazzulla has seen the same in other sports, too.

“You take a look at when Man City won four (Premier League titles) in a row,” said Mazzulla, a noted soccer fan. “Someone had a breakaway and it gets ricocheted off the backup goalie, and then they end up winning.

“When you win, everyone always credits you, and then when you lose, everybody always blames you. In reality, it’s, like, 10 possessions that separate you, and some of those have to go your way.”

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