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Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics

May 17, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla during the first quarter against the Miami Heat in game one of the Eastern Conference Finals for the 2023 NBA playoffs at TD Garden. Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Through one game of the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals, coaching is already a major topic. The matchup between Erik Spoelstra, in his 15th year as the head coach of the Miami Heat, and Joe Mazzulla, in his first year as the head coach of the Boston Celtics, was seen as a potential X-factor in favor of Miami.

There are a number of ways each coach can impact the game, from rotation decision to in-game adjustments. Yet early on the focus has been on timeout usage – an area where Mazzulla has been questioned since the start of the season. In fact, timeouts were one of the first things Mazzulla was asked about after his team’s 123-116 loss that included a 46-25 Miami Heat third quarter.

  • “Going up against Spoelstra, who’s constantly making adjustments on the fly, willing to kind of call timeouts and change things up so quickly, how did you balance trying to let things play out in ways you usually do versus having to seize control?, ” Mazzulla was asked.

    “I called two in the first quarter,” Mazzulla replied dismissively. Pressed on why he didn’t call any more in third quarter specifically, he responded “I don’t call two in the first quarter, save it for the third-quarter run.”

    Figuring out Mazzulla’s timeout logic has been tricky at best. Yet there’s another layer to this topic that seems to have gone under the radar. It’s not just about calling timeouts and being done with it – but using those opportunities to make adjustments and regain or continue to build momentum in the game.

    Before we start talking about Mazzulla needing to call more timeouts, let’s see what he’s done with the ones he is calling – and do the same for Spoelstra as well for comparison. In total, 10 timeouts were called in Game 1 – three by the Celtics, three by the Heat, and four default media timeouts. Here’s a look at all 10, and then we’ll get into them one-by-one.

  • A chart showing the timeouts and results from Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat

  • Media timeout: 5:55 1st quarter, Celtics up 16-15

    When Mazzulla said he called two timeouts in the first quarter, that’s a bit misleading. This timeout was going to occur one way or another as a media timeout. The Celtics had a little bit of momentum going into it, but the Heat came out stronger and grabbed an early lead with a 7-3 run.

  • Celtics timeout: 2:51 1st quarter, Heat up 26-25

    The Heat’s run had cooled off a little bit from that first timeout, but as the run reached 11-9 Jaylen Brown threw the ball away off an inbound leading to an easy Caleb Martin layup. Mazzulla was able to get his team to reset after this timeout, and they won the final three minutes of the quarter.

  • Media timeout: 6:33 2nd quarter, Heat up 44-42

    This was a media timeout, but it may have resulted Mazzulla’s best adjustments of the night. The teams traded baskets to start the second quarter, but the Celtics came out of this break on a 13-3 run – what ended up being their defining moment of the game.

  • Heat timeout: 4:07 2nd quarter, Celtics up 55-47

    Spoelstra’s first timeout came as a result of that Celtics 13-3 run. Again, Mazzulla had the team ready to go coming out of the break and the Celtics would go on another 7-2 run after this timeout, but things did eventually settle down before halftime.

  • Media timeout: 6:28 3rd quarter, tied at 78-78

    This list is about the timeouts that were called in Game 1 – but Mazzulla’s critics have focused just as much on the one’s that weren’t. Mainly, in this spot right here. The Heat opened the second half with a 20-7 run, setting the stage for their monster third quarter. Yet Mazzulla failed to stop the game at any point, waiting for a mandatory media stoppage as Miami tied the game for a chance to re-group. He even managed to get things calmed down a bit after this one too, with the Heat going on an 11-6 run to follow.

  • Media timeout: 2:46 3rd quarter, Heat up 90-84

    With the Heat still rolling, Mazzulla again let things ride until a mandatory media timeout. Once again, the Heat emerged from the timeout with the advantage, going on a 13-7 run to close the 46-25 quarter.

  • Heat timeout: 10:26 4th quarter, Heat up 103-98

    After getting beat badly in the third quarter, the Celtics quickly started to respond in the fourth. They opened the quarter on a 7-0 run, but that’s when Spoelstra made the move Mazzulla failed to make in the third – calling a timeout less than two minutes in. That timeout seemed to halt the Celtics’ progress, as the two teams played even for the next seven minutes.

  • Heat timeout: 4:47 4th quarter, Heat up 114-109

    Despite the two teams playing even, Spoelstra called another timeout after a few sloppy plays by the Heat. For significant stretches before and after this timeout, neither team had an advantage.

  • Celtics timeout: 3:19 4th quarter, Heat up 114-109

    With just over three minutes to go, and the Celtics previous three possessions having ended with two missed threes and a turnover, Mazzulla called this timeout likely to try to settle things down offensively. Yet unlike earlier in the game, the team was unable to draw up an answer in the huddle. Immediately after the timeout Tatum threw the ball away resulting in an ugly turnover, and the Heat hit back-to-back threes to put the game away.

  • Celtics timeout: 0:27.1 4th quarter, Heat up 122-114

    Mazzulla called one more timeout in the final minute, although the game was mostly out of reach at this point. The ensuing play resulted in a missed Jaylen Brown three pointer.

  • So there’s the running tally of all 10 timeouts from Game 1. Did Mazzulla call enough timeouts? Did he make the most of the ones he had? Expect this narrative to continue for the rest of the series.

    The teams return to action Friday night for Game 2 at TD Garden. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. on 98.5 The Sports Hub and the Sports Hub BetMGM Celtics Radio Network.

  • Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.

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