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NBA: Boston Celtics flying under Joe Mazzulla

Joe Mazzulla has enjoyed an exceptional start to life as Boston Celtics head coach, despite taking charge in incredibly difficult circumstances. 

The Celtics saw their preseason preparations rocked as the franchise suspended head coach Ime Udoka for the entire season for violations of team policies. 

Udoka had led Boston to the Finals Series last season and had appeared to be on an upward trajectory. His suspension could have been a huge blow to the organization but Mazzulla has managed to pick up where his predecessor left off.  

Who is Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla? 

Mazzulla worked as Udoka's assistant last term and was thrust into the limelight following Udoka's suspension. 

The Rhode Island-native was a relative unknown before taking charge of the Celtics, but he is quickly establishing himself as one of the brightest young coaches to watch in the NBA. 

There were concerns that Mazzulla didn't have the experience to handle the pressure of managing the Celtics' star-studded roster. 

The 34-year-old went undrafted in 2011 and opted to move into coaching following his college career, where he played as a point guard for West Virginia, after failing to find any playing opportunities outside the USA and has worked his way up to the NBA. 

Mazzulla's first coaching role came with Glenville State in the NCAA Division II and he then moved to Fairmont State, working as an assistant at both teams. The former guard moved to the Celtics' affiliate G-League outfit Maine Red Claws (now Maine Celtics) as an assistant in 2017 before returning to Fairmont as head coach. 

He then moved to Boston as an assistant in 2019 under Brad Stevens and then Udoka. 

Mazzulla has had to work his way up through the ranks to get his big chance, but he is making the most of the opportunity. 

Boston defying expectations 

After reaching the Finals Series last year, Boston were tipped to challenge again but Udoka's suspension tempered those expectations. The Celtics had become stagnant under former coach Stevens, now the President of Basketball operations, and initially struggled last season before kicking into gear in the second half of the campaign. 

Udoka was, quite rightly, credited for their resurgence and losing the coach looked like a huge blow but Mazzulla has arguably overseen a quick improvement. 

Boston did suffer just a fourth defeat of the season on Monday as they went down 121-107 at Chicago Bulls but they still hold top spot in the East with a 13-4 record, ahead of Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers. 

Star duo Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are enjoying excellent campaigns. Both are currently averaging career-highs in points as Tatum is averaging 30.3 per-game and Brown 25.3, while Tatum is also averaging a career-high in assists and Brown is in rebounds. 

If Mazzulla can continue getting the best out of those two players, then Boston will be a serious threat in the playoffs, and they have plenty of individuals in other areas who are impressing as well. 

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Joe Mazzulla has put his own stamp on the team 

The Celtics had a fairly quiet offseason, with Malcolm Brogdon and Blake Griffin their only notable arrivals, but Mazzulla has overseen an evolution of the team's style rather than continue along the same path Udoka had laid out. 

The team is a little more free-flowing and Mazzulla calls fewer timeouts to facilitate this, so the Celtics look slicker in their offensive play.

That could potentially prove the difference as they push on later in the season for what looks like an inevitable run in the playoffs. 

Mazzulla appears to be a level-headed character and, according to Brogdon, is "not a yeller", and that calmness looks to have helped the Celtics players adjust to a shock change in coach during the offseason. 

How far can the Celtics go under Joe Mazzulla? 

This season could well have been a case of damage limitation for Boston but instead they look like genuine championship contenders once again. 

It would be some story if New England-native Mazzulla could lead the Celtics to a record 18th title in his first season as an NBA head coach, particularly given the circumstances of his appointment, but at present that looks a very real possibility.  

Boston are rated at +425 to win the NBA Championship Outright and Tatum is +300 to win the Regular Season MVP award. 

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