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As much as possible, Joe Mazzulla will strive for continuity with Celtics

Mazzulla directs the action during Tuesday's practice session.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

On Tuesday morning, following a difficult, emotional, and stunning week, Joe Mazzulla drove to the Auerbach Center for his first day of practice as head coach of the Celtics.

He was asked later what he was thinking about during that drive, as he prepared for this new assignment that came so suddenly.

“I drive a minivan,” Mazzulla said. “That’s probably the first thing that goes through my head. And I’m not changing it. But I park in the same spot. I do what I’m supposed to do. And I think that’s part of it. Same thing I’m asking the players to do, I have to do. I have to do my job.”


Last Thursday, coach Ime Udoka received a one-year suspension from the team for violating organizational policies. League sources have said Udoka was having an improper, consensual relationship with a subordinate female employee in the organization.

The Celtics swiftly installed Mazzulla, an assistant for the last three years, as the interim coach, and he has been tasked with bringing some stability back to a franchise that generally prides itself in having plenty of it.

“I think it’s important to do it through collaboration,” Mazzulla said. “What we’ve done here over the last year has been very successful, and so sticking to what the guys are comfortable with is the most important thing.”

Mazzulla and lead assistant coaches Ben Sullivan and Damon Stoudamire are back from last year’s Finals squad. And, most importantly, so are the main rotation players. So Mazzulla is keenly aware of not disturbing what worked so well last season.

So the structure of Tuesday’s practice, from the timing to the template to the drills, resembled last season.

“The communication might be a little bit different,” Mazzulla said, “but as much as these guys can be comfortable, it’s going to help us.”


To an outside observer, there were no indications — beyond the absence of Udoka — anything was amiss Tuesday. Forward Al Horford said it felt as if the team picked up where it left off, coming within two wins of an NBA title last June.

At the conclusion of the session, there were hoots and hollers during a half-court shooting contest as Horford, Luke Kornet, and Brodric Thomas drained their attempts. About an hour after practice, stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown completed individual shooting workouts on separate baskets.

Mazzulla answers questions after practice Tuesday at the Auerbach Center.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Players expressed typical first-day optimism despite the fact that it was preceded by an incredibly atypical week.

“Everybody was locked in,” forward Grant Williams said. “Normally, you have guys coming into training camp, depending on the year, they might not know the plays. Guys came in with the whole playbook, guys came in ready to start going with concepts from the beginning. It was one of those things where everybody was attentive and everybody was ready.

“You could tell that at the end of the day, everybody’s just ready to get back out there and play our first game. We could probably go out there and compete at a high level.”

Mazzulla, 34, said Udoka is probably calmer than he is while running practice. Mazzulla prefers to be active and on the move. So near the end of this session, the former West Virginia guard was on the court, joining the players in drills.

“That’s something that I miss, something that I want to be able to do,” he said. “So there are moments I’m walking around like, ‘What am I supposed to be doing right now?’ But for the most part I love being with the guys, and they’re great guys. That’s where I find my joy, and that’s where I want them to get theirs.”


Despite the recent tumult, including Danilo Gallinari’s season-ending ACL tear and Robert Williams’s knee surgery that will sideline him for at least two months, the Celtics remain the favorites to win the NBA title.

Mazzulla said they are not viewing themselves as defending Eastern Conference champions, because such accomplishments are essentially meaningless now. But Horford acknowledged that the rest of the league will remember, and that Boston will be the hunted. He is not concerned.

“They’d just better be ready when it’s their time to play us,” Horford said, “because we’re going to be ready.”

Horford takes a breather during Tuesday's workout.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at Follow him @adamhimmelsbach.