Ask any NBA fan in the world, and they will all give you a different opinion on the value of coaching during the regular season. For some, a coach’s role is vital from day one until the final possession of a team’s final game. For others, a coach doesn’t show their true value until the postseason rolls around.
The reality lies somewhere in the middle of these two opinions, and how far it sways from one side to the other largely depends on where a team is in its development cycle. For instance, a roster teeming with veteran star talent is far less likely to need possession-to-possession coaching than a rebuilding roster full of fresh, doe-eyed players who are yet to reach their full potential. Personally, I fall on the side of a coach being invaluable — after all, they implement the schemes, the rotations, and they oversee player development strategy; it’s certainly an underrated gig.
However, it doesn't matter what level your team is playing at; when it comes to a late-game ATO (after time-out) possession, the onus is on the coach to provide the blueprint to get a bucket. On Saturday night, with time quickly running out, Joe Mazzulla stepped up to the plate and called an ATO set we’ve seen Boston run multiple times this season.
The play design itself is rather simple. Put Jayson Tatum in the backcourt, and have him build up speed before feeding him the ball while also ensuring the rest of the roster is spacing the court. From there, Tatum can either attack the paint, stop and pop for a jumper, or look to drive and dish as the defense collapses on him.
“Just get the ball to Smart, have Jayson create separation, and then just make a play from there and he did a great job of executing...I think it’s a read, you can do a bunch of different stuff out of it. So, it’s just a matter of reading where the defenders are, Smart made a great play, and JT did a good job of making separation. Situations like that, players have to make plays, and they did,” Mazzulla said following Boston’s win.
An interesting tidbit to note is that at the end of his press conference, Mazzulla shared that he stole this play from Brad Stevens, but I’m sure Boston’s President of Basketball Operations won't mind one bit.
What’s also interesting is that following the game, Jayson Tatum revealed Mazzulla almost didn’t call the time-out that led to the play in question.
“He almost didn’t call a time-out. We knew the play. We just called the time-out to make sure we got the right guys in the right spots. But, you know, we’ve run that play a lot before, and we usually get something good out of it,” Tatum said.
With their victory, the Celtics notched their third win over the Sixers this season and made it two straight wins coming out of the All-Star break. Mazzulla’s willingness to go back to an ATO he had success with earlier this season, where the same play led to a Jayson Tatum dunk played a significant role in the end result and proved that a coach has tremendous value, even in the regular season.
Of course, we all would have preferred to see Boston have the game in the bag far sooner, but a win is a win, and it keeps the Celtics atop the Eastern Conference with just 21 games remaining.