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Boston Herald
Boston Herald
15 Apr 2023
Steve Hewitt

NextImg:How Celtics’ Joe Mazzulla, Hawks’ Quin Snyder connected long before meeting in playoffs

Quin Snyder didn’t have a job last summer after he resigned from the Jazz, but the longtime coach still loved talking basketball with whoever was willing. Brad Stevens, who has developed a strong relationship with Snyder over the years, had just the guy for him.

Long before it was even a remote possibility that the two would face each other in a playoff series, Snyder connected with Joe Mazzulla and immediately hit it off.

“I tried to kind of not think too much about basketball, but I really enjoyed talking to him,” Snyder, now the head coach of the Hawks, said before Saturday’s Game 1. “Just in those conversations, not only a heck of a coach, but very thoughtful about the game, very smart. It was an opportunity for me to learn, too. You got people who have different experiences.”

Neither Snyder nor Mazzulla was a head coach at the time. But after unforeseen circumstances – Snyder replacing Nate McMilan midseason and Mazzulla being promoted from assistant to head coach after Ime Udoka’s suspension – the two are now squaring off in the first round.

There’s a mutual admiration between the two. Earlier this week, Mazzulla said he has modeled some of his offensive philosophies after Snyder, who guided some electric offenses in Utah. Though he’s 22 years older than the 34-year-old Mazzulla with plenty more experience, Snyder appreciates the perspective of his counterpart.

“He’s just done a great job,” Snyder said. “He’s been terrific. This is, lonely’s not the right word, but it’s hard to have relationships. You have them with other coaches, but when you get into competition, that’s what dictates that. I was fortunate with Joe that wasn’t the case this past summer, although it is now, but I really enjoyed that dialogue. …

“I like talking to coaches and I like talking about basketball really to anyone. It’s fun for me because I think you learn. I had a pizza guy give me a lob play. It was better than any lob play I had. Joe didn’t give me any lob plays and he’s not a pizza guy, but Brad connected us, and then beyond that initially, I think it was just easy conversation.”

Saturday marked the 10-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings, and the Celtics paid tribute by wearing special marathon-themed shooting shirts for Game 1. The shirts were blue with yellow lettering that said “One Boston,” recognizing One Boston Day, which has been celebrated every April 15 since 2015 to recognize the resiliency, generosity and strength demonstrated by the people of Boston.

Mazzulla wore the shooting shirt to his pregame press conference, and the Rhode Island native was proud to do so.

“I think it’s an honor and a privilege to coach in this city,” Mazzulla said. “It’s one of the most well-rounded cities, it’s a place that I love to be. And I think we have a responsibility to what’s come before us, not only in sports, but off the court. Just areas that we can have a positive impact and the shirt represents that, represents kind of what the city has gone through and how they’ve persevered in that. But also I don’t take for granted that I’m in a position to where I can help others and be a positive impact on others, and I think that’s key.”

Mazzulla is one of three finalists for the NBA’s coach of the year award – alongside Sacramento’s Mike Brown and Oklahoma City’s Mark Daigneault – after guiding the Celtics to 57 wins and the Eastern Conference’s second seed following the unique and difficult circumstances of his promotion.

Mazzulla, as usual, delegated the credit to those around him.

“It’s a reflection of the staff and the players,” Mazzulla said. “The organization, it’s foundationally set for success because of the process, because of the history and the tradition. And if it wasn’t for them, then it wouldn’t be possible.”

Malcolm Brogdon was also named a finalist for the NBA’s sixth man of the year. The other two finalists are Milwaukee’s Bobby Portis Jr. and New York’s Immanuel Quickley. …

The Celtics had some special visitors for Game 1. Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Bruins players David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Hampus Lindholm were all in the house.