Boston Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla admitted Monday that he should have called a timeout before taking the final possession of his team’s 116-115 overtime loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 4.
The Celtics got the ball in with 19 seconds left after a James Harden 3-pointer, but didn’t get a shot attempted before the final buzzer.
Mazzulla defended the strategy after Sunday’s game, but on Monday afternoon he agreed to a timeout that could have given the Celtics one of many chances to win the game.
“Hindsight is 20/20 after overtime. I should have called [a timeout] 1-on-2 should help us get a couple more possessions,” Mazzulla said during a conference call with reporters. “So obviously with 14 seconds left, you want to get as many opportunities as you can. So we will definitely learn from it.”
The Celtics faced a similar scenario late in the fourth quarter. Harden tied the game on a floater with 16.1 seconds left in regulation, and the Celtics inbounded the ball without calling a timeout. Jayson Tatum’s drive set up an open 3-pointer from Marcus Smart, who missed the game and sent it into overtime.
However, Mazzulla remained firm in his decision by the end of the fourth quarter.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about all year,” he said. “We are confident that our men will perform well. [Not calling a timeout] Prevents the other team from getting the matchup off the ground. This prevents other teammates from organizing their defense.
“Hindsight is always 20/20, so it feels good to say, ‘Yeah we should have done it,’ but we’ve prepared all year as a team to take advantage of those situations. A lot of times it worked. Out for us. I thought the end of regulation paid off. We got the last shot, and that’s what you want. You don’t want them to have a chance.”
At the end of overtime, Tatum ran out the clock and didn’t begin driving to the basket until there were five seconds left on the game clock. He defended his coach’s decision not to call a timeout at the end of the game, but admitted he should have started attacking the basket sooner.
Tatum recalled how he hit the game-winning streak in the final seconds of Game 1 of Boston’s 2022 first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets, as the Celtics inbounded the ball without calling a timeout, preventing the opposing defense from organizing.
“We’ve been doing it all year and we’re confident about it,” Celtics center Al Horford said after Game 4. “The pace was there. Jason had the ball in his hands and played well. [Marcus] Smart would have caught it half a second earlier and it would have crashed. I’m not too into that drama.”
Mazzulla, 34, in his first season as a head coach, has given his players freedom in the final possessions all season without stopping the game with a timeout. While he held onto the principles behind that decision-making, he acknowledged there were lessons he could learn from Boston’s final possession in overtime.
“I think the two lessons you learn from that are calling [a timeout] Right away, 2-on-1, get two shots, two extra possessions,” Mazzulla said. “Or we’ve got to be clear as a team that we have to go faster to get a shot. We’ve done both all season. We did not implement anything in that particular situation.”
The series is tied at 2-2. Game 5 is Tuesday night in Boston.