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Bond between Celtics’ Joe Mazzulla and Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola’s on display at NBA Finals

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Joe Mazzulla watches as many Manchester City matches as he can, and there’s a clear symmetry there between that English soccer powerhouse and his Boston Celtics.

They had games on the same date 10 times during the Celtics’ regular season. When Man City prevailed, Mazzulla was thrilled and the Celtics — for whatever reason — just happened to go 9-0 in their games on those days. When Man City didn’t win, the Celtics were 0-1.

He’s struck up a friendship with Man City manager Pep Guardiola; the two exchanged jerseys when Mazzulla visited his team over the NBA All-Star break, and Guardiola had courtside seats for Game 1 of the NBA Finals in Boston. It’s part of what makes Mazzulla tick. He truly believes that coaches can help other coaches whether the games are the same or not.

“I think as you get into this, you start to realize, once you’re in a position, nobody can really relate to you other than people in those positions,” Mazzulla said Saturday in Boston, where the Celtics will play host to Game 2 of the NBA Finals against Dallas on Sunday night. “So, you develop a bond with other coaches, and you know what they are going through, and you know what the challenges are and the opportunities and the situation you’re in. I think it’s really important that we all stick together.”

He has relationships with Boston’s other pro coaches: Red Sox manager Alex Cora, Bruins coach Jim Montgomery and new Patriots coach Jerod Mayo, someone Mazzulla has been close with for a while.

“Jerod and I got close as assistants, just how would you do things when it’s your opportunity, what have you learned from the head coaches that you’ve worked for,” Mazzulla said. “And now that we are in this position, it’s helping each other with the transition and the different experiences.”

Mazzulla visiting Man City and talking to players there, that was big news. Guardiola being at Game 1, that commanded much attention. Boston coaches supporting one another, obviously that’s going to be very well-received by the city’s sports-mad fanbase.

But there’s plenty of coach-to-coach talking that Mazzulla doesn’t do publicly as well.

A few months ago, he got on a Zoom call to talk to players at Division II’s Gannon University — because he knew the coaching staff. Mazzulla has Division II roots as well, from his time as a coach at Glenville State and Fairmont State. It generated no attention, probably because Mazzulla didn’t do it to seek attention. He just wanted to pass along some words of encouragement.

“Joe, it’s phenomenal what he’s done,” said former Gannon coach Jordan Fee, now an assistant at Florida Atlantic — where the new head coach, John Jakus, is very close with Mazzulla as well. “But it’s not a surprise to me. For those of us that knew Joe from Glenville State or Fairmont State, it’s not a surprise for us that he’s where he’s at. Some things fell his way, maybe, but greatness is greatness. People recognized it in him.”

GAME 2 TRENDS

Dallas surely wouldn’t mind seeing form hold in Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

The Mavericks are 3-0 in Game 2s so far in these playoffs, all on the road, winning by one, three and nine points.

Dallas is trying to become the first team in NBA history to go 4-0 in Game 2s in a single playoff run. It would also become the first team to go 4-0 in Game 2s in a postseason — regardless of location — since the Los Angeles Lakers during the bubble playoffs of 2020.

“I think there’s no panic with this group,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “We didn’t play well in Game 1. Give credit to Boston; they did. But it’s a series and we don’t just look to capitalize on just one game. We’ve lost Game 1 a lot of times, and we’ve responded. We believe that we can respond in Game 2.”

The Celtics are 1-2 in Game 2s so far in this postseason, all those games being played in Boston. They lost to Miami by 10, lost to Cleveland by 24 and beat Indiana by 16 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

It should be noted that Game 2s are the only vulnerable spot Boston has had in this postseason. The Celtics are 12-0 in all other games of a series.

“Every series is different. Every game is different,” Celtics center Al Horford said. “For us, we understand it’s a big challenge. We are not really thinking about the past. We have to focus on this Game 2 and make sure we do the things we need to do to put ourselves in position to win a game.”

KYRIE IN BOSTON

As expected, Mavericks guard — and former Celtics guard — Kyrie Irving wasn’t the most popular guy in TD Garden for Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night. Nobody thought it would be a warm welcome from Boston fans, and it wasn’t.

Irving is just fine with that.

“I don’t expect to be celebrated by everybody,” he said Saturday. “I’m going to still be aware that a lot of people want to see me fail. But again, I think I pay attention more to the way that I’m celebrated from people that love me unconditionally and I go home and have a peace of mind.

“You know, thinking about my time in Boston, I could go down a myriad of things that none of you in here know that I was dealing with, and I don’t think a lot of people would care. I think a few people would care and want to hear about it, and I would leave that space open in the future if you ever want to hear about it.”

STREAKING

Boston’s current eight-game playoff winning streak is the longest in Celtics history. Another win on Sunday, and the streak starts to hit rarefied air.

Golden State has the record for consecutive wins in a single postseason — 15 in 2017. San Antonio won 12 in a row in 1999, and the Los Angeles Lakers had 11-game win streaks in 1989 and 2001.

Cleveland won 10 straight in 2016 and 2017, the Spurs won 10 in a row in 2012 and New Jersey had a 10-game run in 2003.

So, if Boston wins Game 2 on Sunday and pushes its win streak to nine, it’ll join the 2021 Phoenix Suns, the 1996 Chicago Bulls and the 1982 Lakers for the ninth-longest run in a single playoff run in NBA history.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA

By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Basketball Writer

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