Celtics’ Joe Mazzulla’s success being ‘overlooked’ after winning another award

The Celtics have shown a rare display of consistency throughout this season. They’ve rarely had off nights. And even as the regular season winds down, with not much for them to play for before the playoffs, there have been little sign of complacency.

That mindset, according to the players, has started from the top with Joe Mazzulla.

Mazzulla – who earned the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month award for the second time this season after leading the Celtics to a 12-4 record in March – certainly still receives a fair share of outside criticism and doubt that he can guide the C’s to a long-awaited championship, but inside the locker room, there’s a deep appreciation for how he’s gotten the most out of this group on a consistent basis.

“He’s just done such a good job with us,” Al Horford said. “I feel like having us play at this level and be this consistent as a team, and finding new ways to challenge us. I feel like Joe has done that for us. I don’t take it for granted. Give him a lot of credit for putting us in this position, so it’s pretty cool to see him get recognized in this way.”

With less than two weeks left in the regular season and the top seed in the NBA virtually locked up, the Celtics don’t have many meaningful games remaining. But Mazzulla has kept them connected.

“I think it’s pretty easy to just take your foot off the gas and question what these games mean, but we have a lot of guys, they don’t want to skip steps and Joe’s at the head of that, so a lot of credit goes to him,” Derrick White said.

Other coaches around the league have recognized Mazzulla’s coaching ability, too. Before Wednesday’s game, Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault acknowledged the pressure surrounding Mazzulla in Boston and how he’s succeeded within it.

“He’s got a Ferrari of a team with high expectations in a city with high expectations regardless of whether or not the team is a Ferrari,” Daigneault said. “And he just is unflappable, and makes the next best decision, they are incredibly well-coached on both ends of the floor. When you coach against him, you are put in tactical dilemmas, which is part of having really good players, but they leverage that to the fullest. So it’s very uncomfortable playing against them because of their talent and how well constructed they are but also coaching against him.

“I think because of the talent on the team and the experience of the team and where the team is in their cycle, it’s been overlooked how good of a job he’s done but he’s one of the best coaches in the league.”

Lee on the move?

On Wednesday, the Hornets announced that Steve Clifford will step down as the team’s head coach following the end of this season. ESPN reported Celtics assistant Charles Lee is among the leading candidates expected to be considered for Clifford’s opening.

Lee, who joined the Celtics coaching staff prior to this season after stops with the Hawks and Bucks – the latter of which he won a championship under Mike Budenholzer – has been a perfect fit in Boston.

“He’s brought a championship perspective,” Mazzulla said. “He’s worked for a coach for a long, long time that’s really, really good that he won a championship with, so he brings that. High level energy, positivity, but just really good perspective. He’s been around great players, he’s been around a great coach and any time you can have a variety of perspectives, I think it helps you in different situations, so he’s been great for us.”

Horford – who had Lee as a coach when he was with the Hawks – said Lee’s transition with the Celtics has been seamless.

“He’s just a guy, he cares about winning, he transmits that to the team and he’s been a big part of what we’ve done here,” Horford said. “It’s no secret that he’s one of those guys that it’s just a matter of time when he’s gonna be in that position to get a head coaching job.”

Injury report

Thunder star and MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander missed his second consecutive game Wednesday against the Celtics with a quad injury. Jalen Williams also missed the game with an ankle injury.

Jaylen Brown, who is dealing with a left hand sprain that forced him out of Monday’s win against the Hornets, was cleared to play on Wednesday.

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