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Jayson Tatum, Kendrick Perkins differ on Joe Mazzulla’s late-game strategy vs. Heat

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Perk disagrees with Tatum on Mazzulla’s late-game strategy vs. Heat originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Joe Mazzulla’s aversion to timeouts is well-documented, but it may have cost his team a shot at victory Tuesday night in Miami.

The shorthanded Boston Celtics trailed the Heat by two points with 20 seconds remaining at FTX Arena after Bam Adebayo hit a 12-foot jumper over Payton Pritchard. Most head coaches would call a timeout in that situation to advance the ball to halfcourt and draw up a play, but Mazzulla decided to let things play out.

The result: Jayson Tatum walked the ball up the floor, then fired a wild pass out of a Miami double-team that was picked off by Tyler Herro to seal a 98-95 Heat victory.

So, why not call a timeout to draw up a better play? Mazzulla said he liked the matchups on the floor and didn’t want to give Miami the chance to sub in better defenders.

“What I did know is the absolutes,” Mazzulla told reporters after the game. “The absolute is we had the ball in our best player’s hands. I knew that because of their offensive lineup, they were gonna play this coverage. I just didn’t call the right play. I have to call a better play to get the better spacing for him to see it better.”

Tatum sided with his head coach, approving of Mazzulla’s decision to let things play out.

“We didn’t want them to necessarily set up their defense during the timeout, so I think not calling a timeout was smart,” Tatum said. “Obviously it’s on me. They trust me in that situation to make the right play, regardless of being double-teamed or not. I can’t let us down like that and not even give ourselves a chance to win the game.”

On “Celtics Postgame Live,” however, Brian Scalabrine, Eddie House and Kendrick Perkins were less forgiving. All three agreed that Mazzulla should have called a timeout — if not initially, then at least when Tatum began slowly walking the ball up the floor.

“Joe Mazzulla, once he’s seeing that, ‘Oh, we’re walking the ball up the court,’ holler out there,” House said. “You have to communicate: ‘Get it over (halfcourt) real quick and we’ll call a timeout.’ You’ve got to save seconds. When you’re losing in a game, the most precious thing is seconds on the clock. You’ve got to try to get multiple looks, because then you have an opportunity if you do miss to play the foul game.”

Perkins was more forceful in his take, insisting that Mazzulla should have called the timeout right after Adebayo’s bucket.

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“The possession shouldn’t have happened, because (Mazzulla) should have called a timeout way before that. You’ve got two timeouts. What you trying to do, take them home with you? For what?” Perkins said.

“You’ve got an opportunity to call a timeout, get a good look, save some clock. When you’re down, you want to save as much clock as you can to give yourself an opportunity to win. Now you can draw up something quick out of the timeout and get a good look at the basket. … I just didn’t like this whole thing.”

Mazzulla has mostly avoided criticism this season while leading the Celtics to an NBA-best 35-14 record. He’s certainly not above reproach, however, and the way Tuesday night ended — as well as Boston’s inability to adjust to Miami’s zone defense in the fourth quarter — opens the door for some second-guessing.

The Celtics still hold a 3.5-game lead in the Eastern Conference, though, so Mazzulla and his team can afford to use Tuesday as a learning experience going forward.



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