Joe Mazzulla, coach of the Boston Celtics Undaunted by Damian Lillard Trade: We’ll See When These Two Nightmares Face Off

Head coach Joe Mazzulla of the Boston Celtics reacts during the second half of a preseason game against the New York Knicks.

It’s no secret the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks are the top two contenders in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks seemed to slide into the No. 1 slot when they pulled off a deal to acquire Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard. Although the Bucks lost Jrue Holiday in the deal, a Giannis Antetokounmpo/Lillard tandem is arguably the best in the NBA.

The Celtics countered by trading for Holiday, sending Robert Williams, Malcolm Brogdon, and picks to the Blazers. JJ Redick recently asked Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla what his thoughts were on the Bucks getting Lillard, and he had the perfect response.

Joe Mazzulla walked into a tough situation last season. The 34-year-old assistant coach was thrown into the fire after the Celtics suspended head coach Ime Udoka for violating team policy. Mazzulla replaced Udoka on an interim basis before earning the permanent job.

The Celtics are stacked. With Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum in their primes, it’s time for the Celtics to reach a new level. They’ve flirted with a championship the last several years but haven’t been able to secure Banner No. 18. The Celtics are no strangers to the Eastern Conference Finals. They even reached the NBA Finals in 2022. With Tatum and Brown, two All-NBA players, the Celtics haven’t been able to bring home a championship.

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The addition of Holiday addresses the loss of Boston’s perimeter defense after they traded Marcus Smart to the Memphis Grizzlies in the offseason. While Boston did acquire 7-foot-3 center Kristaps Porzingis in that Smart deal, the Celtics remain thin up front after sending Williams to Portland.

In the offseason, Brown signed the richest deal in NBA history, inking a $304 million extension with the Celtics. He and Tatum, who is expected to surpass Brown’s deal in the near future, need to show they are worth the money and guide Boston to a championship.

Mazzulla has a full year under his belt. He’s surrounded by talent. Both he and the Celtics have plenty to prove this year.

Joe Mazzulla was a recent guest on Redick’s The Old Man & the Three podcast. He was blunt when Redick asked him what he thought of his team’s biggest rival snagging Lillard, saying he’s got plenty to worry about with his Celtics, and he’s not focused on things beyond his control.

“I’ll give you exactly what it is,” Mazzulla said. “He’s a great player. They’re a great team. We don’t have time to worry about that. Here’s why I say that.

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“As a young coach, taking over the way I did, I really wanted the number one seed. Look how that turned out for the number one seed last year. Be careful what you ask for. I spent a lot of time like, ‘We gotta get the one seed. We gotta get the one seed.’ Then we lost it, and I was like, Oh, s***, we lost it.’ Then the one seed ended up losing to the eight seed. You just don’t know. People don’t say that enough. Like, what if we got the one seed and lost to the eight seed? I probably wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”

The Celtics secured the No. 2 seed but still lost to the eighth-seeded Miami Heat in the conference finals.

“That really taught me something last year,” Mazzulla said. “There’s so much at stake that I can’t worry about what’s going on around (the league) because then I’m losing sight of what we actually have.

“Yeah, they’re going to be a nightmare to play against, but my job is to make us a nightmare to play against, too. We’ll see what happens when two nightmares play against each other.”

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