Preview: Celtics have eyes on return to NBA Finals

BOSTON (AP) — The Boston Celtics ended last season in the spotlight for all the right reasons.

A team seemingly stuck in the mud for several years has recovered from a slow start to make a surprise run to the NBA Finals led by homegrown talents Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Behind it all was rookie coach Ime Udoka, who emerged as the leader of a new era for a franchise that looked closer than ever to lifting an 18th championship banner.

This was before Udoka was suspended for the upcoming season after a months-long investigation by a law firm revealed multiple violations of team policies. A person with knowledge of the matter told The Associated Press that the violations were related to an inappropriate relationship with a woman in the organization. The person spoke on condition of anonymity as details have not been made public.

In an instant, all talk of the Celtics’ potential on the field was clouded by scandal.

It’s left a team that’s won two NBA titles to figure out how things have changed over the past month, and also to sort of refocus as they try to capitalize on their finished championship window.

“You come into this season feeling a certain way. Since last year, you’ve been excited and trying to do all these things. It’s a lot, if I’m being honest,” Tatum said. “I think what I’m looking forward to the most is playing basketball.”

The man charged with helping this team thrive is interim coach Joe Mazzulla, an assistant to Udoka. A holdover from former coach Brad Stevens’ staff before he took on his new role as president of basketball operations, Mazzulla is not just a familiar face, but someone players have openly lobbied for. for Udoka to stay.

He plans to build on those relationships, while also building on the successful culture on the pitch established by Udoka.

“I’m in a lucky situation because I’ve been here for three years and we had the offseason to prepare for what we wanted to do before the season,” Mazzulla said. “There is not much to change. It’s just about learning from last season and how we are improving. . Just kind of take it one day at a time.

It will attempt to do so with a mostly intact core. Robert Williams III will likely miss the first few months of the season as he recovers from surgery to repair torn cartilage in his troublesome left knee.

Free agency pick-up Danilo Gallinari is also likely out for the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while playing for Italy in a FIFA Cup qualifier. FIBA World this summer.

SAME FORMULA

One thing Mazzulla made clear this pre-season is that the team’s style of play won’t change much from last season.

“We struggled at the start of last season, but at our best we knew what our identity was,” Mazzulla said. “That was our buy-in from a defensive standpoint. And he was sharing the ball and moving quickly on the attacking side. So as far as we can stick to the things we were great at last year, then finding small areas to improve along the way is the way to go.

READY TO SACRIFICE

As much as reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart has been the Celtics’ defensive heartbeat during his tenure, one of the lingering criticisms of him has been his inability to create chances for his teammates late in the game. .

The addition of veteran Malcolm Brogdon this offseason appears to be an attempt to fix that problem.

But Brogdon said he was there to support, not replace Smart in a team he considers the most talented he has played with.

“I come from a team where I was the second top scorer. Guys know it. They know what I can do. They know what I did,” he said. “So to come here and be able to sacrifice and deny shots to get a better shot, or to set up these other guys – that shows a lot. … At this point in my career, my goal is to win.

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