Home Featured Banner

Joe Mazzulla Sees Few Differences Between Playoffs and Regular Season

BOSTON — The Celtics reconvened for two practices this week as they awaited their first round opponent following weeks spent playing meaningless games in the standings and with multiple starters resting. Joe Mazzulla didn’t consider the team in need of re-energizing, rather an abbreviated training camp. They held a cardio session that lasted over two hours, competitive workouts like full-court offense without dribbling and returned to read-and-react concepts that built the best offense in basketball this year. Nothing new.

Mazzulla stressed repeatedly in recent weeks that he sees no difference between the regular season and playoffs regarding what wins games. The margins — shooting, rebounding, turnovers and free throws — will dictate wins and losses while only the stress and atmosphere change. Boston realized that last spring when a 57-25 regular season turned into an 11-9 postseason where opponents outscored them by 11.4 points per 100 possessions in crunch time. Last regular season looked successful until the team lapsed into the postseason, so Mazzulla’s focus on maintaining the things they did all year appeared intent on translating them. By reducing the pressure ahead.

“Regardless of who you’re playing, the playoffs is no different than the regular season,” Mazzulla said on Tuesday. “It comes down to the margins, the style and the system in which we play. That’s really what it is. Between now and Friday, we’ll hammer home us getting better as a team and how we can continue to work the margins on both ends of the floor and understand the playoffs, there’s obviously more attention on it, but winning a basketball game comes down to all the same things. We just have to have an innate discipline on the details and the margins.”

This season feels different. A few nights like the Hornets road trip in November and the Lakers letdown with LeBron James and Anthony Davis out aside, Boston managed to avoid slip-ups. The Celtics enter the playoffs fully healthy, and could see a path that lines them up against Chicago in round one, then Orlando in the second. Regular season red flags like defensive inconsistency, bad losses and offensive limitations at the center position made the six games against Atlanta, 3-2 deficit to Philadelphia and 0-3 hole they faced against Miami predictable even if surprising. Crunch time aside, this group doesn’t feature those concerns, and by contrast boasts plenty of playoff experience and a bench that, albeit hasn’t played much playoff basketball, played well throughout the regular season and Brad Stevens predicted they’ll bring a fresh naivety to the postseason.

Mazzulla previewed his playoff perspective perspective for the first time on 98.5 The Sports Hub before the Celtics beat the Hornets on Apr. 1. While praising his second unit, he projected using that group the same way he did all year. They helped Boston all season, he argued, so they can’t get away from those players now. That includes Payton Pritchard, who finished the season scorching hot, Sam Hauser, who lost his rotation spot into last postseason and Luke Kornet, an occasional DNP-CD who played and succeeded more often than not this year. Xavier Tillman Sr. and Jaden Springer, defensive specialists and deadline additions, could also make cameo appearances.

“They’ve done pretty much everything throughout,” Mazzulla said. “So they’ve started games, they’ve not played, they’ve played. So one of the reasons why they’re effective is they don’t really care what their situation is. They understand how to impact the game in different ways. So it won’t be an adjustment for them. I think our depth is a key and a strength of ours heading into the playoffs. So just have to be ready to utilize that. They know what their role is, they know how to play the game, they know how to impact the game and they’re not defined by one thing. So they take just as much pride in their defense as they do in their offense, and so they’re well coached by the player development staff, great complementary pieces for the team, but at the same time they know they can impact the game in different ways — as long as you play with that open mind … high level of physicality and attention to detail.”

CLNS charted the likely postseason rotation last month, including 42 minutes for Jayson Tatum, 38 for Jaylen Brown and roughly 35 for Kristaps PorzingisDerrick White and Jrue HolidayAl Horford can ramp up and scale back as needed, effectively the team’s sixth man and the key to double-big rotations, while Pritchard, Hauser and Kornet can split roughly 30 minutes. Kornet could lose his share if Porzingis and Horford exclusively split center minutes, but their large share of double-big combinations point toward one of Kornet and Tillman Sr. at least receiving first half rotations. Pritchard and Hauser’s utilizations will tell just how closely Mazzulla mirrors his playoff rotation to the regular season one.

Having those players in confident positions should they need to step into larger roles in case of injury, foul trouble or other incidents could also prove a key factor in the team’s championship hopes. It’s obvious Mazzulla’s messaging, stay ready for much of the year, aimed to develop a mindset. Whether he actually goes to the bench to the scale Boston did all year will be something to watch immediately in Sunday’s Game 1 (1 p.m. EST). Mazzulla cut down the rotation significantly last postseason. He later said he had confidence in going to that group, and while he’s a different coach this time around, more locked into his position, the stress of winning expectations will challenge him at times, too.

Jimmy Butler likely won’t play in round one if the Heat win on Friday night, Josh Richardson went down for the season, while Terry Rozier and Duncan Robinson both missed the first play-in game with injuries. That could pull from the alertness a Miami team that beat Boston one year ago would’ve instilled in a first round series if they meet again. The Heat can still win games, posting the No. 1 NBA defense over the final 10 regular season games, if not the series. An extended first round set the tone for a postseason last year where Grant Williams, Malcolm Brogdon and Tatum suffered injuries. Robert Williams III also suffered an illness in Game 7. Boston won games with players out all season, perhaps providing more room for error than one year ago, but sweeping a Chicago, taking care of a second round opponent in five games or less and quickly advancing to the NBA Finals could provide the Celtics the greatest advantages over the field this postseason. Rest and health.

“We looked at the 08 team, we looked at the 2010 Lakers that won a championship and how every path is different,” Tatum said. “The 08 team went to two Game 7s, first and second round. Getting us prepared, it’s not always going to go how we expect it or want it to go, but we have to be ready.”

Bobby Manning

Boston Celtics beat reporter for CLNS Media and host of the Garden Report Celtics Post Game Show. NBA national columnist for Boston Sports Journal. Contributor to SB Nation's CelticsBlog. Host of the Dome Theory Sports and Culture Podcast on CLNS. Syracuse University 2020.

Recent Posts

Celtics vs Pacers Eastern Conference Finals Preview and Predictions

Aaron Nesmith lined up a game-tying attempt from three against the Celtics on Jan. 30 in…

12 hours ago

Observations From Day 1 of Patriots Open OTAs

The Patriots' veterans and rookies took the field today for the first session of organized…

15 hours ago

Rafael Devers Extends Homer Streak to Five Games

The Red Sox lose a series in St Louis to the Cardinals. Joey Copponi and…

16 hours ago

Celtics Praise and a Nuggets-Timberwolves Game 7 | Bob Ryan & Jeff Goodman Podcast

Bob Ryan and Gary Tanguay discuss the Celtics' dominant Game 5 win over the Cleveland…

3 days ago

Joe Mazzulla Says Communication Made Celtics Different This Year

Joe Mazzulla finally addressed a question he and the Celtics’ players mostly shook off all…

3 days ago

Exclusive Interview with WR Specialist Steph Brown

On this episode of the Patriots Daily podcast, Taylor Kyles is joined by wide receiver…

4 days ago