Pregame Post-Ups: Former C’s Assistants Set to Face Off as Opposing Head Coaches

BOSTON – Less than a year ago, Joe Mazzulla and Will Hardy were serving as assistant coaches on the same bench, both doing their part in helping to lead the Boston Celtics to the NBA Finals.

Tonight, those two friends will be facing off against each other for the first time at TD Garden, now in elevated roles – Mazzulla as the head coach for the Boston Celtics and Hardy as the head coach for the Utah Jazz.

It’ll mark the second time the pair have faced off in the past two weeks, after the C’s lost a 118-117 nailbiter in Salt Lake City on March 18. And they’re both looking forward to matchup No. 2.

“I enjoy seeing him down there,” Hardy said of coaching on the opposite side of the court as Mazzulla. “This business is hard, and these jobs are hard to get and we’re all very lucky to have them. So to be able to have opportunities to coach against friends or mentors or anything like that is always super cool. I try not to take those moments for granted. You’re locked into the game, and you want to win, and I want to beat them, and I know Joe wants to beat us. But when you separate from that a little bit, it is cool to see him having the success that he’s having and them having the success they’re having. I look forward to going against them again tonight.”

Mazzulla said that he learned a lot from coaching alongside Hardy last year and emphasized how much Hardy played a role in uniting the entire team.

“He’s a really smart basketball mind, and it good for me to be able to watch how he navigated being an associate head coach, how he served Ime (Udoka), how he brought the staff together, how he organized everything, how he handles the players,” said Mazzulla. “I learned a lot from him, just how he put his mark on our organization, especially in such a short period of time.”

Hardy is impressed with how Mazzulla has helped Boston maintain its level of success from last season despite all of the coaching changes. And as someone who knows this Celtics group well, Hardy believes they have what it takes to go just as far as last season or farther.

“This team, when I watch them play, they have everything they need to make a deep run,” said Hardy, who at age 35 is the second-youngest coach in the NBA after Mazzulla (34). “Joe’s a great coach. Those guys all believe in him, and they all believe in each other. I know they’re a tight-knit group. They’ve had injuries and stuff this year as well, which any team goes through over the course of a season. But I think with some good health late, they’re as dangerous as anybody.”