On opening night that kicked off a season-long celebration of Bill Russell’s life, it was also the humble beginning of coach Joe Mazzola’s career. Russell helped the author with 690 wins and 11 championships in his illustrious career, and for Mazola, the celebrations centered on it all.
“Bill Russell’s concert brought a lot of gratitude and showed a lot of perspective on what it means to coach a Celtic team and to be a Celtic player,” Mazola said after Boston’s 126-117 victory over the visiting 76ers.
Mazzola was with the Celtics for three years, and was the only coach to have worked with both Brad Stevens and Amy Udoka. While he became the interim coach under inauspicious circumstances, he wowed the local kid from neighboring Rhode Island at a training camp now with his first win.
“Joe is tough as nails,” Jaylene Brown said after the match. “Even in the midst of it all, and in the midst of all the turmoil, you could look him in the eye and see that he was ready.”
Mazola has definitely earned the trust he built with the players and it looks like he’s got a thing or two from his predecessors. Even after the Sixers had an eight-point lead in the second quarter, he didn’t call a timeout, trusting his players to learn from their mistakes and implement them. This is straight from Brad Stevens’ notebook. Later in the match, he paired Noah Vonlet with Al Horford in a large double back area to bolster the defense. This comes from Odoka.
But even with all the institutional knowledge he accumulated in his time on the Boston bench, it appears that it was his humility that built the mutual respect between him and his players.
“He’s very honest because he doesn’t know everything,” Tatum said after he and Brown collected 70 points in the season opener. “He wants us to help him as much as he helps us.”
“I am grateful for the relationship between us,” Mazola said. “These guys have been through a lot together and they are great players. It’s just a matter of working together. I appreciate their trust and support. They come up with a lot of good things too and we kind of figured that out.”
On Tuesday night, they found out, beating a fierce competitor and an entire Philly team that many consider the conference favorite. And after the match, the Celtics celebrated Mazola’s first win.
Russell once said, “Joy is the most important part of winning. You can win without joy, but winning without pleasure is like eating at a four-star restaurant when you’re not hungry. Joy is a stream of energy in your body, like chlorophyll or sunlight, It fills you up and makes you naturally want to do your best.”
If this isn’t a picture of joy, I don’t know what is.