Boston Celtics

How Mazzulla is challenging media ahead of Celtics-Mavs Finals

"You guys have to figure out what we're living with by taking that away."

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NBA playoff series are a chess match, and Joe Mazzulla is eager to make the first move.

The Boston Celtics will be back in action Thursday after a nine-day layoff when Game 1 of the 2024 NBA Finals tips off at TD Garden. The Celtics and Dallas Mavericks both have had ample time to prepare for each other, while the media has had plenty of time to dissect every angle of this series.

But when it comes to talking strategy, Mazzulla offered an important reminder to reporters on Tuesday.

As NBC Sports Boston's Chris Forsberg and the Boston Sports Journal's John Karalis explained on a new Celtics Talk Podcast, Mazzulla was discussing narratives in this series when he gestured toward a television in the press conference room that was playing NBA TV. The focus of the segment was on the Mavs' excellent lob game, and how it was "imperative" that Boston "must stop" Dallas big men Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively II from catching alley-oops at the rim.

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"(Mazzulla) looks at it and he goes, 'See? We can do this, but there's always -- you're giving this up,'" Karalis told Forsberg on Celtics Talk. "And he had that quote in his press conference: 'If you stop A, you're going to give up B, and if you stop B, you're going to give up C. And it's a choice.'

"So he said, 'Look, we're going to stop (the Mavs' lob game). We are going to stop that. But then we're going to give something else up, and you guys are going to say, 'Oh, you've got to stop this, that, and the other thing.'

"Basically he was saying that they're going to stop certain things, but then that's going to open them up to other narratives, and that essentially the team has to be blocking out the narratives. (He was) kind putting it on us (as reporters) ... to be to be smarter in our coverage to say, 'They're giving certain things up because they're taking away the lob.'"

The Celtics and Mavs both excel in multiple areas offensively. It's why they're the two remaining teams in the playoffs and own the NBA's two best records since the Feb. 8 trade deadline. So to Mazzulla's point, it's less about what the C's need to stop and more about what they're OK giving up.

And Mazzulla is challenging the media to highlight the latter rather than harping on the former.

"If he's true to his word and the Celtics have taken away the lobs to Lively and Gafford, then he's kind of telling us in that moment, 'You guys have to figure out what we're living with by taking that away,'" Karalis added.

"So don't write, 'P.J. Washington is killing them! They've got to figure out how to stop P.J. Washington.' You've got to write, 'P.J. Washington is what they're willing to live with because they're taking away all these lobs.'"

Mazzulla's comments are a good reminder that most defensive decisions are intentional. So if Mavs forward P.J. Washington gets multiple open looks in Game 1 and goes off for 20 points, it's likely because the Celtics are trying to take the ball out of Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving's hands, and/or guarding against lobs in the paint to Gafford and Lively.

At the end of the day, the only stat matters is a win, and it will be fascinating to see what strategies Mazzulla and Mavs head coach Jason Kidd deploy to set their teams up for success.

Also in this episode:

  • Did Kristaps Porzingis make you feel better about his status after press conference?
  • Kristaps Porzingis' full press conference.
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