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New England-native Joe Mazzulla becomes youngest NBA title-winning head coach in over 50 years

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21 months ago, Joe Mazzulla was quickly ushered from the second row of the Boston Celtics’ bench to the lead chair when the team levied a lengthy suspension against head coach Ime Udoka - fresh off an NBA Finals appearance earlier that summer.

The Johnston, Rhode Island native hastily and unceremoniously earned the auspicious title of the NBA’s youngest head coach just days before training camp. On Monday night, 35-year-old Mazzulla became the youngest person to coach an NBA team to a title since 34-year-old Bill Russell helped claim the 1968 title in his double-duty role as player-coach.

The days of coaches lacing up alongside their players have come and gone. Still, one of the NBA’s oldest and most storied franchises returned to the mountaintop again Friday by fully committing to their idiosyncratic coach’s vision. The same vision that led guard Derrick White to call Mazzulla a “sicko” after Game 3.

Mazzulla believes that getting booed is “good for you.” That basketball insight can be gleaned from watching orcas hunt seals. That this sport is ultimately a numbers game - putting up more quality three-pointers than your opponent will solve almost any on-court equation.

When the Celtics bowed out to the Miami Heat in last year’s Eastern Conference finals, Mazzulla’s quirks and fixed offensive philosophy became a source of ridicule in league circles. But the West Virginia University product doubled down, telling former NBA sharpshooter and current podcaster JJ Reddick that the fault wasn’t with the system but that he “didn’t teach it well.”

Former Celtics head coach-turned-lead exec Brad Stevens also backed his former assistant, trading 2022 Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart for former All-Star center Kristaps Porzingis, who could space the floor even more efficiently than Al Horford. They then traded for Jrue Holiday, a terror in the backcourt on both offense and defense. The swaps turned Boston’s offense into a nightmare matchup across the league while ensuring minimal dropoff from the sturdy defense that made Boston a championship contender the two previous seasons.

Firing up more threes than ever but crashing the glass harder, Boston steamrolled their way through the regular season, their 123.2 offensive rating setting a new league record backed by a top 3-ranked defense. Even when Porzingis missed most of Boston’s playoff run with two different leg injuries, the Celtics only dropped three games in the postseason; resulting in a final combined regular season and postseason record of 80-21.

A new-age approach returned Boston to the pinnacle they’ve reached more than any other. Mazzulla, who grew up a ride down Route 1 from Causeway Street, raised the Larry O’Brien trophy beside a starting center three years older than him, leading a bench full of assistants mostly his seniors in the professional ranks.

Mazzulla’s unwavering faith in the Celtics’, and the team’s reciprocated belief in the young mind from Rhode Island, crystalized in a shower of confetti.

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