Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla went against the grain Sunday evening in Memphis.
Mazzulla stripped Boston of the bulk of its star power with 7:10 to go in the third quarter at FedEx Forum. Even though the C’s only owned a three-point lead at the time, Mazulla pulled Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Jrue Holiday and inserted Al Horford, Sam Hauser and Payton Pritchard. And a little less than two minutes later, the second-year head coach yanked Kristaps Porzingis in favor of Neemias Queta.
None of those Celtics starters returned to the court until the fourth quarter, but no damage was done. Boston entered the final frame with a three-point advantage and managed to fend off a late Grizzlies rally to earn a 102-100 win.
After the game, Mazzulla broke down the thought process behind his unusual personnel decisions.
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“One, to develop a group, another identity, to be able to play some basketball without those guys,” Mazzulla told reporters, per MassLive. “I didn’t think we were playing very well so I wanted to find a lineup that could kind of go on a run for us. First night of a back-to-back so I didn’t want the minutes to be too high. … I thought it was an opportunity to find a better rhythm, find a better lineup and look to go on a little bit of a run there.”
While a late-November matchup with an inferior opponent might not sound like much on paper, Sunday’s game allowed the Celtics to take a step forward as a team. Those were valuable minutes for Boston reserves, who surely gained more confidence from their extended playing time.
Don’t be surprised if we see a similar approach from Mazulla on Monday night when the Celtics play the second leg of a back-to-back against the Hornets. Tipoff from Charlotte is set for 7 p.m. ET.