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Derrick White perfectly encapsulated Joe Mazzulla after Celtics' Game 3 win

BOSTON -- Joe Mazzulla is known for his unique personality and occasionally awkward press conferences. It's time to start recognizing him as one heck of a basketball coach, too.

Mazzulla, in just his second season as an NBA head coach, has the Boston Celtics one win away from a championship. It took some time for players to accept his style after Mazzulla was thrust into the role in the aftermath of the Ime Udoka controversy, but he's accomplished a near-impossible feat in the NBA: He's gotten everyone on the Boston roster to buy into his system and play some team basketball.

Boston's star players checked their egos at the door when the team came together for training camp. You never heard anyone on the roster complain about the number of shots they got or how many times they touched the ball. Winning is all that matters, and it's much easier to win together. Now the Celtics are a single victory over the Dallas Mavericks away from bringing home a Larry O'Brien trophy.

"I think Joe is a basketball genius. So whatever he says, I'm going to try to just do it to my highest capabilities," Derrick White said after Boston's Game 3 win in Dallas.

The 35-year-old Mazzulla has made all the right moves this postseason, whether it's been his rotations off the bench or timeouts that he's called to get his team to refocus. That latter was one of the biggest beefs that fans and pundits had with Mazzulla, but he's completely evolved on that front. He has been racking up experience points and growing as a coach with each game. 

And Mazzulla absolutely loves when his team gets uncomfortable and has to go through some adversity. So when the Mavs cut Boston's 21-point lead down to just one in the fourth quarter Wednesday night, White said he wouldn't be surprised if Mazzulla actually enjoyed his team suffered through -- and overcoming -- that Dallas run.

"He's a sicko, so probably," White joked. 

Only Joe Mazzulla could be referred to as both a "genius" and a "sicko" in the same press conference, but it perfectly encapsulates the Celtics head coach. But no matter the situation the team finds itself in, the Celtics know that he's going to be the same Joe Mazzulla. 

"Joe is consistent the whole time. I mean, he's probably so happy that it happened like that so he can just continue to tell us that," White said with a chuckle. "But he just stays consistent. He just makes the right calls, and we just trust him completely. So, yeah, it seemed pretty true today."

Mazzulla didn't outright say that he liked that the Mavs turned the heat up a bit in the fourth quarter, but he is all about learning experiences. He didn't fret when the Mavericks got off to a hot start on Wednesday night, and he was just as calm as Dallas made it interesting in the final minutes. 

"Just stick to the things that we've been doing. I mean, have an understanding. We were down 13. I expected that. We were down one at the half, and I expected that," Mazzulla said after Game 3. "You have to expect the expected. You've got to understand we are just as vulnerable if not more vulnerable than they are. And we have to play that way.

"So as long as we have that mindset, and when you understand that you're vulnerable and your back's against the wall, you've got to fight. And so that's the mindset that we have to have," he added.

Mazzulla's coaching style on the court is pretty simple. Play team basketball on both sides of the floor, move the ball (and yourself) on offense, and take threes. Lots and lots of threes. But his job is much more than yelling at his players to shoot.

According to his players, Mazzulla and his staff always have them prepared for the road ahead.

"The coaching staff has been fantastic all season long," Jaylen Brown said after Game 3. "It's been just super organized. We've walked through all different types of scenarios. We've been like overly prepared and making sure that we know. Sometimes it's like you've got the coaches, they game plan, but they don't always let you know exactly what they are thinking. Like, they tell us everything. Super transparent. And we trusted it. We trust it.

"I thought that's been great. Joe has been a big reason of that, and he showed himself in these playoffs. He's been coaching his ass off," added Brown.

Players have embraced his system, and they've embraced his unique ways. Whether he's using other basketball teams, soccer squads, or even the hunting patterns of killer whales as examples, Mazzulla is always keeping his team open and engaged.

Jayson Tatum said Wednesday night that Mazzulla has been showing the team highlights from UFC fights to really hammer home that a fight isn't over until it's over. His message has been received loud and clear.

"Joe does a great job of showing us clips and things from different sports, right. He's a big UFC fan. And you know, showing us fights of people that -- I don't know like the terminology of UFC, but put them in a chokehold and [stuff] like they about to tap out. You just see the guy or the woman who is winning relaxing because they feel like they are about to win, and then, you know, you give the other person life," explained Tatum.

"Just trying to translate that to the game of basketball; that, you know, the closer you are to winning, the closer they are to surviving," continued Tatum. "Basically just trying to remind us in the group that we've still got a long way to go. We still have to play the right way. We've still got to win. They are not going to quit, and we should expect the best from them from here on out."

The Celtics will try to deliver a final knockout blow and complete a sweep of the Mavericks on Friday night, ending an incredible season with a championship. Few teams have been able to get the better of Boston's star-studded roster this year, but Mazzulla deserves an Orca's share of the credit for getting everyone to buy in and keeping them engaged throughout. 

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