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Joe Mazzulla is the youngest head coach to make NBA Finals since Bill Russell

Celtics celebrate after advancing to NBA Finals with sweep of the Pacers
Celtics celebrate after advancing to NBA Finals with sweep of the Pacers 01:08

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics are off to the NBA Finals for the second time in three years, but this will be the first trip to the championship round for head coach Joe Mazzulla. In taking his team to the Finals this season, Mazzulla etched his name in the record books next to the greatest winner the sport of basketball has ever seen.

At just 35 years old, Mazzulla is the youngest head coach make the NBA Finals since Bill Russell did it back in 1969. Russell was also 35 when he led the Celtics to a title over the Los Angeles Lakers, though there is one big difference between him and Mazzulla: Russell was still playing and averaged 46.1 minutes per game in addition to coaching the team.

Thankfully, the Celtics haven't had to ask Mazzulla to put on some Chuck Taylors and try to lock down opponents on defense. There's no doubt he would do it if asked, but he's allowed to just focus on coaching the team. And he's shown a lot of growth on the bench in his second year as Boston's head coach.

It helps that he has a team led by Jayson Tatum, Eastern Conference Finals MVP Jaylen Brown, and veterans Jrue Holiday and Al Horford, the latter of whom is older than Mazzulla. Horford will turn 38 a few days prior to the start of the NBA Finals.

But we shouldn't discount the job that Mazzulla has done throughout the regular season and the playoffs. He was able to keep everyone happy on a crowded roster, and the team's 11.6 net rating is tied for the third-best in NBA history. Mazzulla is now coming off a series where he outcoached Indiana's Rick Carlisle, calling important timeouts when Boston needed a break and figuring out the best substitutions to swing momentum of games. 

After the Celtics secured their spot in the NBA Finals with another comeback win over the Pacers on Monday night, Mazzulla delivered an important message to his team after the celebration had calmed down.

"Don't take for granted the people we have in this room, and it's a credit to you guys," Mazzulla told his Celtics. "You guys played your [expletive] off that entire series. And we're nothing without you guys as players. I want to make sure we appreciate that.

"We've been here before. Let's enjoy it, but let's not relax," he continued. "We tasted it before two years ago. Let's enjoy the [expletive] out of it for a couple days. And then let's really go after it."

Mazzulla was an assistant on Ime Udoka's staff when the Celtics made it to the Finals in 2022, losing to the Golden State Warriors in six games. He was thrust into the head coaching role after Udoka was suspended the following season (and eventually let go by the team) for violating multiple team rules. 

Taking over a team with title aspirations wasn't the easiest spot for a first-time head coach, but the Rhode Island native won 57 games and the Celtics made it back to the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to the Miami Heat in seven games.

The Celtics were even better in 2023-24, finishing with the best record in the NBA at 64-18. Now the Celtics are back in the NBA Finals, and while they certainly have a star-studded lineup, Mazzulla deserves his share of the credit for the team's return to the biggest stage in the game.

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