2023-2024 Boston Celtics rewriting history books in unforseen ways. Part 1 – John Cardullo

by John Cardullo, RINewsToday sportswriter

Editor’s Note: As we went to “press”, the Boston Celtics announced they will sell the team.

The 2023-2024 Boston Celtics are rewriting the history books in ways that most people haven’t even realized yet.

It took a bit of time of reflection on this past NBA season on just what the Boston Celtics had achieved by winning their 18th NBA Championship. The fact that they had the leagues best record with 64 wins and going from “wire to wire” in first place since the seasons opening tip off. The season ending with the team running through what seemed to be a never-ending series of play-off’s to raise their 18th championship banner high above court side at the Boston Garden (this being the second championship the new, rebuilt Garden has seen).

To truly appreciate the journey this team took to get to the top of the NBA mountain, let’s take a trip back to when the NBA was young. When there was no television coverage of the season. Back then, if you were a Celtics fan you could get the game on your radio with Johnny Most bringing you the play by play. When he would spin his own style and interpretation on what was going on during the game. Most had his own style and the heroes who wore green and white went to battle every game with the evils of the opposition on a nightly basis. To his credit, the recently retired Mike Gorman kept that tradition going when he took over the play-by-play duties.

The Boston Celtics began in 1946, but it wasn’t until a coach named Arnold “Red” Auerbach came in 1950 and stayed until 1966, the Celtics began their run of NBA dominance. Winning the NBA title in 1957, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, & 66. Auerbach moved upstairs to the General Manager’s position (this would prove to be an important move for the future success of the Celtics franchise in years to come). Auerbach would finish with a coaching record of 795-397 and 9 banners. A tradition that he started was when he felt victory was at hand, he would light up a “victory cigar” to seal the win. Fans to this day swear that the cigar smoke aroma is still swirling in the rafters around the banners.

The next four coaches who took the helm of the Celtics were former Celtic players, all had their numbers retired by the team and three were enshrined into the NBA Hall of Fame. Bill Russell who many hard core fans still consider the greatest Celtic ever to were the green and white, took over the team after “Red”, going 162-83, Russell won the 1968 and 69 championships before he retired. Russell was at the time the youngest head coach to ever to lead his team to the NBA title and has his name on the award that is given to the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the championship series. Tom Heinsohn won two more championships after Russell stepped down. It wasn’t until Bill Finch came along and coached the team from 1979-83, the Celtics would win their 14th championship in 1981, the first banner under the great Larry Bird team. Former Celtic player K.C. Jones relieved Finch (who the players felt were to tough and difficult to deal with).  Jones won the title in both 1983 and 1986 that included Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parrish, Danny Ainge, Dennis Johnson and Bill Walton. Many Celtic fans will tell you that this was the greatest Celtic team that was ever assembled. It took 12 long years for the Celtics to win championship number 17. Under head coach Doc Rivers and Ainge, who moved into the general managers seat, the Celtics recreated the “BIG THREE” theory. Paul Peirce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett won the last championship the Celtics would see for another 16 years.

The Celtics has some opportunities to add to that count, but underachieving on high expectations or relying on young players to carry the team through didn’t pan out. The fact is that the NBA regular season is a grind that runs from October into May and into late June for the teams that make it to the finals. Fatigue, injuries and chemistry get tested during a typical NBA season. It’s not abnormal for teams to go through winning streaks, losing streaks, slow starts or quick starts. It comes down to who is playing their best toward the end of the season playoff run.

The Celtics brought in a young up and coming coach, Brad Stevens, who was 166-9 coaching the Butler Bulldogs. After going 354-282 in his Celtics career, Stevens moved into the front office as well. Stevens brought in Ime Udoka who was a assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets. Udoka led the Celtics to the NBA finals in his first season but lost to the Golden State Warriors. The future looked bright for the Celtics, or so they thought, Udoka was suspended for the entire 2022-23 season which led to him being terminated.

This elevated Joe Mazzulla to the position of interim coach. This move made Mazzulla the youngest person to coach a NBA team since Bill Russell. Joining the Celtics coaching staff in 2019. After being named as the interim coach, the Celtics made the play-offs only to lose to the Miami Heat. The Celtics was named the head coach during the off season by Brad Stevens removing the interim from his title.

Mazzulla who grew up in Johnston, Rhode Island and attended Bishop Hendricken High School where he led the Hawks to three state championships and was named to the All-State team twice. Mazzulla played college ball at West Virginia. Not being drafted by any NBA team, he went into coaching and moving up the ladder of small college teams before landing with the Boston Celtics. His coaching style was often questioned by the “talking heads” of the local sports radio stations. Often answering questions direct and pointedly, rubbed the beat writers and reporters the wrong way. His candor and belief in his team and coaching staff left no doubt to his confidence in his belief that he was the right coach for the Celtics. With every season win, as the play-offs proceeded with the Celtics moving on to the next series and then the next, began to quite the detractors and the fans were believing in the Mazzulla way.

To say the 2023-24 Boston Celtics were dominating would be an understatement. To many, their 64-18 record was the best in the NBA. They beat the Miami Heat 4 games to 1 in round one of the play-offs, then knocked out the Cleveland Cavaliers 4 games to 1. The Celtics swept the Indiana Pacers 4 games to 0 before squaring off with the Dallas Mavericks for the championship. The Celtics won the series 4 games to 1. The Celtics went 16 and 3 in the playoffs, 80-21 for the season. Led by Jayson Tatum who was drafted number 3 by the Celtics in 2017 out of Duke. Tatum was often blamed for the teams’ failures to advance to a championship before the 2023-24 season. Tatum who is 26 years old, became a 3-point Sharpe shooter averaging 26.9 points per game.  Jaylen Brown also came to the Celtics via the 2016 draft as a first round selection at number 3 as well. Brown’s 23 points a game and penetrating style complemented Tatum’s forming the big two foundation the Celtics were being bult on. Veteran big man Al Horford played for the Celtics in 2016-2019 before being traded to Philadelphia and they sent him to Oklahoma City Thunder before resigning with the Celtics in 2021. Known for his physical style, Horford was called “average Al” by the local media during his first stint with the Celtics. In his return, the 38-year-old has provided veteran leadership to the young Celtics, as he contributes by scoring from beyond the 3-point line.

Brad Stevens realized after the 2022-23 season that some major moves to the roster had to be made, trading popular players such as Marcus Smart, who was a fan favorite, was made and bringing in a 28-year-old veteran in Kristaps Porzingis proved to be pivotal piece of the puzzle of the team.  The 7’2” Center from Latvia provided a big body in the defense, and he was able to score from anywhere on the court. Drafted in 2015 by the New York Knicks, Porzingis played for the Dallas Mavericks and Washington Wizards before being traded to the Celtics before this season. Derrick White was a point/shooting guard that was a first-round pick of the San Antonio Spurs in 2017. He came to the Celtics in 2022. Scoring 15.2 points per game, the 29-year-old became a solid member of the team that would eventually evolved into a championship team. Jrue Holiday was a 1st round pick out of UCLA in the 2009 NBA draft by Philadelphia. The 34-year-old journeyman played for New Orleans and Milwaukee before coming to Boston this season. A role player contributed 12.5 points per game and 5.4 rebounds. Payton Pritchard was selected by the Celtics in the 1st round of the 2020 draft. The long-range shooting guard scored on two half court shots during the play-offs. Jordan Walsh, Sam Hauser, Luke Kornet, Xavier Tillman, Neemias Queta, Oshae Brissett, Jerdarrian Devontae, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Jaden Springer and Drew Paterson round out the Celtics roster. Mazzulla convinced every player would contribute to buy into the Celtic way and that they did, all the way to the NBA Championship.

As the Celtics celebrated their championship on the Boston Garden floor, the whispers of the Celtics being the new dynasty, how they are set up to win 3 or 4 more titles over the next several years maybe in the cards. All this before the duck boats on the Celtics celebration set sail. The fan base of the green and white were eating it up! And who can blame them? They have the organization in place led by Stevens, Mazzulla is the league’s newest, hottest coaches who is happy right where he is, and the foundation of a young team that is not only seasoned for the play offs, but is experienced in winning. Red Auerbach once said “The Boston Celtics are not a basketball team, they are a way of life! It looks like Green and White are back in style.

Watch for Part 2!


John Cardullo, sportswriter. John is a lifelong Rhode Islander. His sports experience is extensive, as a player, coach and sponsor of youth and high school sports. He has been the Public Address Announcer for the CCRI Men’s and Women’s Soccer teams. Both the Cranston East and Cranston West football, Cranston East Boys and Girls basketball for 12 years before moving onto the Central, Juanita Sanchez and Mt. Pleasant football teams. Also, Central HS Boys and Girls Basketball, Scituate High School Boys and Girls Basketball, Johnston High School Girls Basketball, Boys Volleyball, Girls Softball, Boys and Girls Soccer teams, and CLCF football.

John has been involved in Men’s softball for 61 years, starting as a batboy for his father’s team in 1964. He moved to the teams scorekeeper then became a player in 1975, and created the men’s team, Players Corner Pub, that went on to win 20 State Championships in their 35 year history. In the 1990’s he published the statewide softball magazine “The Fielders Choice” which was dedicated to all topics related to adult softball. As a feature writer, John and the publication won several media awards. In 2019 he was elected and inducted into the Rhode Island Slow Pitch Softball Hall of Fame which he also helped create. John is a softball umpire in Warwick, Rhode Island.

In his spare time John golfs with his life long friends on a weekly basis in season. After retiring from the printing Industry after a 45-year career, he now writes specialty sports columns for

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