For most of the regular season, Joe Mazzulla has famously (or infamously, depending on whether or not you’re a fan of The Three Amigos) not called a lot of timeouts. Whether it’s to halt momentum of an opposing team’s run or to draw something up for the Celtics, Boston’s head coach has instead empowered the players to problem solve and figure it out on the floor themselves.
Against the Knicks on Thursday night with the Celtics down 1 with 28.1 seconds to go in overtime, Mazzulla called timeout. Here’s what he drew up:
Jaylen Brown for the lead! pic.twitter.com/mWTekt49rm— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) January 27, 2023
It resulted in a simple baseline drive by Jaylen Brown and layup that took all of four seconds to run, but it’s quietly brilliant nonetheless.
With that much time, many might have expected the Celtics to isolate at the top of the circle. That’s exactly how Boston closed out regulation with a chance to win the game. Without calling a timeout, Jayson Tatum rebounded a Quentin Grimes’ three-pointer, ran down the rest of the clock, and pulled up for a mid-range jumper.
With the newly minted, first-time All-Star starter alone in the backcourt, it sure looks like the Celtics are setting up for a similar play that closed out regulation. But here’s where some Brad Stevens-esque misdirection comes into play.
As the ATO progresses, Al Horford and Brown crisscross at the free throw line; there’s little contact, but it’s a subtle deliberate move. Brown is sure to cut closer to the rim with R.J. Barrett on his left hip. Even with the Knicks covering forty feet of hardwood, it’s the inches that matter here.
The timing on Malcolm Brogdon’s inbound pass is perfect. With Barrett closing out to Brown’s left shoulder, Jaylen quickly rips through to his left and right to the rack. Tatum barely crosses halfcourt.
For those clamoring for more timeouts and whiteboard wizardry, the numbers back it up. According to PBP Stats, Mazzulla and the Celtics are 5th in the league in points per possession off a timeout at 1.11. Cleveland is first at 1.17 and Orlando comes in at 30th at 0.96.