BOSTON — Celtics guard Marcus Smart provided more clarity on his pointed comments after Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, when he said coach Joe Mazzulla was “right” dealing with criticism of his first year at the helm of the team.
“It’s true that like us if we go out there and we don’t play a good game, or we don’t do the things that we know we can and we should do, we’re held accountable,” Smart said afterward. in practice on Saturday afternoon. “Joe’s not on the court, so he has a different accountability than we do. And that’s some things he may or may not do.”
In their Game 6 season, the Celtics made a critical adjustment by inserting Robert Williams III into the starting lineup and returning to the unit they used for most of last season en route to the NBA Finals. Celtics players responded to the change with approval, including Smart, who said he was happy with the move.
Smart used that lineup change to note that Mazzulla, the 34-year-old first-year coach of the Celtics, is still learning. But Smart continues to support Mazzulla’s decision-making.
“At the end of the day it’s his decision,” said Smart. “If it works, we don’t say anything. If it doesn’t, then obviously you have to look at it. That’s the fun of taking criticism and moving on, being coached, learning. The great players , the great coaches, they learn.
“Even if they make a mistake, they don’t let it stop him. They move on and they learn from it.”
Mazzulla drew criticism throughout the second-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers — for his timeout management at the end of the Game 4 loss to Boston and after the Celtics lost at home in Game 5 to fall behind 3-2 in series.
Smart said the players have an open dialogue with Mazzulla and he allows them to come to him with suggestions. But even though many Celtics players favored putting Williams in the starting lineup, none of them said they met with Mazzulla to influence the change.
Williams is expected to remain in the starting lineup for Game 7 between the Celtics and Sixers this Sunday in Boston.
When asked what prompted the move, Mazzulla simply replied, “We’re trailing 3-2 in the series.”
“We’re all about winning, whatever it takes,” said Smart. “There are things that we don’t see on the court that Joe sees, and there are also things that we see that Joe doesn’t see. We’re here to help each other.”
Mazzulla was not the head coach of the Celtics last season when they won two Game 7s — against the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat — en route to the NBA Finals, but he was a member of Ime Udoka’s staff.
So Smart reiterated that even though this is Mazzulla’s first time at the helm, he feels the coach has been part of the journey with the rest of the Boston core.
“He’s been here through a lot of adversity and our struggles,” Smart said. “So now that he’s on the job it’s nothing new. Joe loves us and we love Joe. We believe in Joe and Joe believes in us.”