A few things I care about . . .
▪ Yes, the Celtics need urgency, but they don’t need to panic.
Good for Celtics president Brad Stevens for staying the course with coach Joe Mazzulla, who earned a solid endorsement from his boss just days after losing Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. For all of Mazzulla’s shortcomings, inexperience that was laid bare across three rounds of the playoffs, installing a fourth coach in four years would be more of a disservice to this core of players than giving Mazzulla at least another year to grow on the job.
Yes, that mandate to learn does come with urgency. Championship windows don’t stay open forever, and the Celtics have been on the precipice for seven years — five conference finals trips, one Finals appearance, but no titles. Despite a wild (and wildly inconsistent) series against Miami that went from 0-3 down to 3-3 to a shocking no-show Game 7 at home, there is no reason to believe the Celtics can’t learn from this disappointment.
No one will benefit from a full offseason as much as Mazzulla, the 34-year-old former Division 2 head coach who moved up from the second row of the Celtics bench after the stunning last-minute dismissal of Ime Udoka. Stevens, the team’s head coach three seasons ago before giving way to one season (and a Finals appearance) under Udoka, seemed to know the value of extra prep time.
“I always needed a whole summer of planning, a whole summer of thinking and organizing thoughts and being able to catch yourself ready to emphasize what you want to emphasize on a daily basis,” he said. “There’s no question that will be a huge benefit.
“To do what they did in five days and get ready for the season and to start the season the way we did was a little bit more remarkable than people outside the building would have thought. I certainly was leaning on the leadership on that point. That was not an easy thing.”
And those were circumstances completely beyond Mazzulla’s control, yet ones about which he never complained, never turned to as an excuse, never allowed to bleed into the Celtics’ locker room.
He made plenty of mistakes: stubbornness with timeouts, rigid commitment to 3-point shooting, an admission he did not have his team mentally prepared for Game 3 and not even needing to say so when the team looked similarly unfit for Game 7.
But, Stevens believes, “he’s a terrific leader,” whom he said will “only get better at anything that he can learn from this year, because he’s constantly trying to learn. And he’s accountable. Those leadership qualities are hard to find.”
Now, it’s time for the franchise to help the coach, whether by surrounding him with more experience among his assistant coaches or better depth on his roster.
“I mean, it was his first year, we got to the conference finals Game 7,” Jayson Tatum said. “I don’t think people give him or us enough credit for that. . . . Obviously we wanted to win the championship. Didn’t happen. But I think Joe did a great job.”
⋅ More bad injury news for Chris Sale. Felt inevitable, didn’t it? With his super-thin frame, his full-body, explosive delivery, and his history of fragility in all manner of joints, limbs, and bones, it’s no wonder the veteran lefty is back on the IL, this time with shoulder soreness.
But man, it’s hard not to feel bad for him. You could hear the pain in his voice, and not just for his physical discomfort, but for his heartbreak and disappointment. Sale had worked so hard to get back this year, and had really found a groove, pitching with velocity, finesse, and joy. Sigh.
⋅ Congrats to Worcester Academy alum Aliyah Boston, the WNBA’s rookie of the month for May. Boston’s Indiana Fever went 1-3, but she is making an immediate impact, averaging 14.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game. The No. 1 overall pick out of South Carolina is leading all rookies in scoring.
⋅ Quite a stunner by Churchill Downs when it decided to shut down its spring meet and move its operations to Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky., citing 12 horse deaths across the previous month and instituting a broad review of everything at the famed track. But is it truly a concern for safety or more a concern over optics?
Feels like the latter after the track still hosted racing this past weekend. If it was truly unsafe, why not move immediately?
⋅ Kudos to Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, who helped save a child from drowning at a Las Vegas pool. Morris, who was vacationing with family, helped locate the AED (automated external defibrillator) after the child was rescued, and then assisted first responders in using it after they’d begun CPR. Morris said he leaned on training instituted by the NFL after Damar Hamlin’s on-field cardiac arrest in January. Hamlin has since become an advocate for AED training and availability.
⋅ Condolences to the Stanley Cup hopeful Vegas Golden Knights, who mourned the passing of a special fan and mascot. The owners of pup Bark-Andre Furry, a fixture around Vegas since their 2018 run to the Cup Final, announced Friday via Twitter that the 14-year-old Jack Russell had died. The dog was named for former Knights goaltender Marc-André Fleury.
⋅ What a stat from The Athletic’s John Hollinger: Boston is the first city to lose a home Game 7 to a No. 8 seed in both hockey and basketball in the same season. Ouch.
⋅ But maybe this stat brings hope? Both the Heat and Panthers were top seeds in the Eastern Conference in 2022, but neither played for a title. A year later, they both are. The Bruins (top seed) and the Celtics (No. 2 overall who moved up after the No. 1 Bucks lost in the first round) should take note.