Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Joe Mazzulla: The Missing Link

First off, I know it's been about two years since I've done one of these, but I've been here the whole time… watching a Celtics head coaching carousel due to bad behavior, and seeing an old high school rival ascend to coach the greatest franchise in NBA history. Certainly not something you see every day, but a remarkable ascent nonetheless.

Today's topic, why Joe Mazzulla, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum don't quite understand one another.

After watching Monday's 114-109 overtime loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves it finally clicked for me. Last season and postseason we watched a Celtics team that seemed to struggle time and time again in big moments. While the team did have some huge moments and some great performances it still seemed that something has been missing at the end of games in big moments for most of the last two-plus years.

That said, Monday's game finally was the "EUREKA" moment for this Celtics fan. Boston struggled to close out a solid, if not good, Timberwolves team. In the final minutes of a back-and-forth battle between the two, the C's struggled to get the ball to its stars in places that they could be effective. The lack of ability to get quality shots or run a proper offense in rhythm ended up in an overtime loss for the previously undefeated Celtics.

But, when one watches closer, something becomes evident and clear. Neither Brown nor Tatum got shots and advantageous positions to beat the young Timberwolves. While Brown did get a shot at the end of regulation, as usual, it seemed rushed and out of the flow and sync of the Celtics offense. Add to this, coach Mazzulla (per usual) neglecting to call the time out late to set up a play.

All of this, sending myself and many Celtics fans into an rage and fury asking yet again "Why the hell won't you call a time out and set up a play?!" And after sleeping on it, I think I finally figured it out.

Let's start with this:

1. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown ARE the most talented, gifted duo in the NBA.

2. Tatum is a top-5 talent in basketball and top-3 in the history of the Celtics

3. Jaylen Brown MIGHT go down as the greatest "No. 2" in franchise history and is a top-15 talent in the NBA

So, if that is true (which I believe it is), why have lesser Celtics squads looked so much better in crunch time? Why was a duo of Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford able to win games late where Brown and Tatum struggle? IT MAKES NO SENSE.

Worse off, the head coach, who seems a smart and capable leader who is knowledgeable and has a high basketball IQ, refuses to call timeouts late to set things up. Again, IT MAKES NO SENSE.

Why is this such an issue? Alas, I found the answer…

The short answer is lack of understanding. My theory is simple. Joe Mazzulla as a basketball player was easily summed up into two words: hustle and instincts. Joe was a wonderful athlete but his basketball instincts were NBA good. Ask John Beilein or Bob Huggins. The guy simply knew where to be and when to be there. Made plays using instinct and anticipation learned playing on the playgrounds and gyms of Rhode Island.

What does that have to do with timeouts? Simple, he doesn't understand why his players don't have HIS instincts. They don't share that ability to be in the right place at the right time. Though the players are infinitely more talented, they simply don't have good basketball instincts.

On the flip side, the players are talented as I've ever seen as a Celtics fan. But its all for not when teams tighten up and defend and talent to overpower opponents isn't enough. When so many possessions end of game end up in iso-fall-away shots by Brown and Tatum, something simply isn't right.

The reality is, the duo lacks the instincts to know where to be and how to get there. It's not a lack of desire or balls, both stars want the ball and the tough shot, but neither seem to understand where and how to make that happen in an advantageous way. The instinct of Paul Pierce or Isaiah Thomas or Larry Bird simply isn't something the duo has (though they virtually have every basketball skill imaginable)

So where does this leave us? Two doomed stars who will never win the big ones unless they get lucky or overpower opponents? A team needing another star to take big shots? A roster that requires 8 to 10 studs to compensate? No…it requires a coach to use HIS instincts to guide his team.

Coach Mazzulla needs to realize that this group of players is championship caliber and can execute anything, literally ANYTHING he asks of them. So why not stop the game and ask them to do something? Remove the instincts, install an executable plan that doesn't require anything more than talent and skill to succeed at.

Mazzulla's maturation as this teams coach needs to be his realization that the players (although more superiorly talented than one can dream) are not instinctively seeing the game he is. And in that, he needs to share those instincts in a TIME OUT to optimize the skill and ability of players who are lethally capable of executing his vision.

Can we see this happen before its too late? Time will tell…or it will run out with another bad shot and no timeout taken…


Zach Peloquin

Photo used courtesy of Boston Globe

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