Boston Celtics

Mazzulla relishes in ‘chaos' for Celtics' bench in wild win vs. Kings

A furious Kings run simulated "stress, pressure and chaos" for Boston's bench.

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BOSTON -- With the NBA's No. 1 seed already wrapped up, Joe Mazzulla has had to get creative to keep his team motivated and engaged down the stretch.

For better or worse, a golden opportunity arose Friday night at TD Garden.

The Celtics led the Sacramento Kings by 14 points with just under 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter when Mazzulla pulled his starters and handed the keys to the second unit. Boston's lead ballooned to as many as 19 with six minutes remaining.

That's when De'Aaron Fox and the Kings ripped off a 20-1 run against Boston's backups to take a one-point lead with under 10 seconds to go. Celtics forward Xavier Tillman played the hero, however, hitting a floater in the lane with 7.2 seconds remaining to help his team escape with a dramatic 101-100 victory.

Xavier Tillman played the hero for the Celtics on Friday, hitting a game-winning shot with seven seconds left to help Boston beat the Kings 101-100 at TD Garden.

Most head coaches wouldn't enjoy watching their team blow a 19-point lead over a six-minute span. But Mazzulla relished in the fact that Sacramento's late run created a pressure situation for his second unit.

“This is fun. This is awesome," Mazzulla said when asked what he was thinking as the Kings made their run against the second unit. "Couldn’t simulate a better environment of stress, pressure, chaos. It’s a perfect environment to execute.

"So, that’s why when those guys are in, you hold them to the same standard that you hold everybody else to. I thought they did a great job just making plays. … I thought it was a perfect environment for practice.”

Check out Mazzulla's full comments in the video player above.

The Celtics can afford to "practice" with a 14-game lead over the No. 2 seed Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference. Before Wednesday's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Mazzulla ran another "simulation," telling his players to imagine the matchup as the closeout game of a playoff series. They responded with a 135-100 blowout victory.

On Friday night, it was the bench's turn to get "crunch time" minutes. And while the final six minutes may not have been pretty, there were plenty of positives on the second unit, from Payton Pritchard's 21 points to Tillman's nine points, four rebounds, two assists and one game-winner.

"I feel like it’s important," Mazzulla said about his decision to keep Boston's reserves in even as Sacramento made its run. "Like, those guys are no different than anybody else. They’ve won games for us in the past, they’ve started games for us. Everybody gets treated at the same level – the highest level.

"You have to be able to win games with different guys, and I felt like it was important in that particular moment that they earned the right to do whatever it took to win the game, because of the work they put in."

Expect more experimenting from Mazzulla and Co. on Sunday when the Celtics host the lowly Portland Trail Blazers at 6 p.m. ET.

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