NEW ORLEANS — In a game where the Celtics built a 19-point lead, they drained ten 3-pointers en route to scoring 40 points in the opening frame and almost let their advantage slip through their fingers as Joe Mazzulla watched the New Orleans Pelicans shave its deficit down to six (98-92).
Brandon Ingram’s 3-pointer topped a 17-7 Pelicans run in the fourth quarter. Despite netting 15 threes before halftime, the Celtics never had complete control throughout the night, and with 6:19 left to play, it was a two-possession game, and momentum wasn’t on their side. However, for Mazzulla, this wasn’t the appropriate time to signal for timeout, which is ideal for most coaches when their team is on the wrong end of a momentum-swinging run in the final frame. For Joe, this was a teaching moment.
Play on. Keep fighting. Figure it out.
For most coaches, drawing up a play or resting while allowing teammates to talk amongst themselves is typically the move to make in dire in-game situations when your backs are against the wall. But for a team with championship aspirations that have reloaded since its trip to the NBA Finals, losing only three of its first 16 games in the regular season, boosting the best record (13-3) in the association, Mazzulla wanted to see if the Celtics had it in them to fend off a talented Pelicans team on the road.
In turn, Jayson Tatum found Grant Williams open for a 3, followed by Jaylen Brown’s assist to Al Horford for a dunk as part of a quick 8-2 run — which eventually led to a 117-109 victory. The Celtics’ ninth win in a row.
“I think you have to go through that as a team, and you have to build an awareness for your team as to what’s going on, and sometimes I like the fact that we have to execute through a run instead of calling a timeout through a run,” Mazzulla said of the Celtics’ fourth-quarter scoring drought. “So, it’s a feel thing, and there are times where you’re going to have to do it, but in order for us to be a great team, we have to handle those situations, and we got to build an awareness, and we have to know how to execute.”
This is a lesson in November to prepare the Celtics for the long haul. Plus, the 34-year-old coach knows the decision to call a timeout when a fourth-quarter lead is hanging in the balance isn’t always going to work in his favor.
“To be quite honest with you, I’ve watched a lot of timeouts where you call one, and then nothing good happens after the timeout,” Mazzulla added. “It’s a 50/50 shot that the timeout is gonna work.”
The Celtics, who shot under 50% in their win over the Pelicans, finished 20-for-46 (43.5%) from behind the arc. Brown finished with 27 points, ten rebounds, and seven assists. Tatum also flirted with a triple-double (19 points, ten assists, and seven rebounds), and Derrick White drained 6-of-8 from 3 en route to 26 points.
New Orleans’ second unit stepped up in a big way and kept the Pelicans in it as they hung around throughout the second half. Outscored 39-15, the Celtics’ second unit leaned heavily on their starters, who answered the call when the pressure was on.
One month into the 2022-23 campaign, and it’s evident the Celtics players are buying into Mazzulla’s newfound coaching style.
After committing seven turnovers, Brown cleaned up his act down the stretch. With less than a minute to play, he converted on a drive to the rim for an easy layup and followed it up by drawing a shooting foul — which extended the Celtics’ lead to the game’s final score with only 7.3 seconds left on the game clock.
“It challenges us not only for the situation at hand but also it challenges us to be better down the line,” Brown said after Friday’s win. “I think that we’ve been in the NBA long enough to know how to get to our spots and how to correct some of our mistakes. We’ve got a poised team, and that’s a lot of trust from our head coach that he instills in us to figure it out.”
The Celtics’ next challenge is scheduled for this following Monday against the Bulls in Chicago, where Boston will conclude its three-game road trip with hopes of extending its winning streak into the double-digits.