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NBA runner-up Celtics must cope with late coaching switch

The Boston Celtics face the start of the new season under new coach Joe Mazzulla. Jordan Jones/NBAE via Getty Images/AFP

Coming off their first trip to the NBA Finals since 2010, the Boston Celtics must adjust to the season-long suspension of coach Ime Udoka and the arrival of new interim coach Joe Mazzulla.

The Celtics will open the 2022-23 NBA campaign Tuesday at home against Philadelphia under their third different coach in as many seasons.

It was less than a month ago when Celtics management imposed the full season ban on Udoka after learning he had a relationship with a female staff member in violation of team rules.

Only days before training camp began, the Celtics turned to 34-year-old Mazzulla, a Boston assistant for the past three seasons, to guide a club considered among the NBA title contenders.

“I’m in a fortunate situation because I’ve been here for three years and we’ve had the off-season to kind of prepare for what we wanted to do heading into the season,” Mazzulla said.

“There’s not much to change at all. I think it’s just about learning from last season and how to get better.”

Mazzulla, who spent two years as a small college head coach from 2017-2019, directs a roster that went 51-31 last season in its first campaign under Udoka and reached the NBA Finals before losing to the Golden State Warriors in six games.

A season of great expectations beckons after falling two wins shy of an 18th Celtics crown.

“He’s somebody we’re comfortable with,” Celtics star Jayson Tatum said. “He has been here the last three years, so same person, just in a different position now. He’s somebody we’re familiar with and have a lot of respect for.”

Tatum led the Celtics with 26.9 points a game last season while Jaylen Brown added 23.6 points a game and Marcus Smart contributed 12.1 points and team highs of 5.9 assists and 1.7 steals a game.

“I have a really good relationship with Joe,” Smart said. “I think pretty much everybody on the team does. Joe has been here through the hard times, through the good times.

“He knows and understands us as players. He has built relationships with us, so we love Joe. We’re excited to be able to work with him and this opportunity he has.”

Maintaining strong communication with players is a key for Mazzulla.

“The most important thing for me is just making sure that the players and myself are on the same page — making sure that we’re focused on the expectations that we have for this season from a basketball standpoint and how we move forward together, building trust and building relationships,” Mazzulla said.

His biggest new relationship will be with veteran point guard Malcolm Brogdon, obtained in an off-season deal with Indiana.

“He’s an incredibly impressive guy,” Brogdon said. “He’s only 34 but he’s incredibly disciplined.

“He’s a guy that’s paying attention to everything. He’s a guy that’s incredibly locked in and intelligent and our players respect and love him. 

“He’s a guy that’s ready for this opportunity and is going to thrive in it.”

Gallinari sidelined

The Celtics signed free agent Blake Griffin in early October but will be without Italian playmaker Danilo Gallinari, who was signed to a two-year deal in July.

Gallinari, 34, went down with torn left knee ligaments in late August playing for Italy in a Basketball World Cup qualifier. He had successful surgery last month but is unlikely to return this season.

“I’m just taking it day by day,” Gallinari said. “That’s the best way to approach a rehab and approach an injury like this and not really think about what’s going to happen in the future.”

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