Boston Celtics

Joe Mazzulla gets strong endorsement from reigning Coach of the Year

Mike Brown believes Mazzulla has done a 'fabulous job' handling high stakes in Boston.

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BOSTON -- Mike Brown can relate to Joe Mazzulla.

Brown was 35 years old when he assumed his first NBA head coach job in 2005, taking over the Cleveland Cavaliers as the league's second-youngest head coach at the time.

Mazzulla was one year younger in September 2022 when he became the Boston Celtics' interim head coach. But whereas Brown's Cavs had missed the playoffs the season prior, Mazzulla was tasked with running a team that had just reached the NBA Finals and aimed to get back as soon as possible.

Mazzulla has risen to the challenge: He's won 74.1 percent of his 158 regular season games to date -- the highest winning percentage in NBA history -- and has the Celtics positioned as the NBA's No. 1 overall seed entering the 2024 playoffs after they fell in Game 7 of the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals.

Prior to the Celtics' game against Brown's Sacramento Kings at TD Garden on Friday, Brown admitted he's been impressed with Mazzulla's poise and ability to manage Boston's lofty expectations.

"I was 35 when I got my first head coach job, and it was an experience," Brown said. "And these guys now, they just seem so cool, calm and collected, the way they speak, the way they coach -- I don't feel like I was quite like that when I was younger.

"He's done a heck of a job for a team that's expected to win. They're expected to win -- not just win during the regular season, but win a championship -- and there's a lot of pressure that comes with that. You've got to try to stay as even-keeled as possible so your team doesn't feel anxious or anything like that, and he's done a fabulous job with it."

Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens has assembled an immensely talented roster for Mazzulla that includes matchup nightmares up and down the rotation and hardly any weak links.

"Everybody it seems like can pass, dribble and shoot at a high level," Brown said of the Celtics. "We have what we call 'hot' players, and when you play these guys, you look at the 'hot' player list, you might as well just put the roster up there."

Despite that abundance of talent, Mazzulla deserves credit for pushing the right buttons and, most importantly, keeping his players focused as they run away with the NBA's best record.

"We talked about it at shootaround today: Nothing else matters except taking advantage of the opportunity to win," Mazzulla said before Friday's game when asked about the challenge of motivating his players over the final six games. "You should always want to win at everything you do, anytime. Just go through the process of winning."

While Mazzulla has been named NBA Coach of the Month twice this season, he's a long shot to win NBA Coach of the Year, with Oklahoma City's Mark Daigneault and Minnesota's Chris Finch the current betting favorites. But it's clear that Mazzulla has the respect of past Coach of the Year winners like Brown -- who won the award in 2023 -- and respect that will only grow if the Celtics can raise Banner 18 this summer.

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