Celtics

Celtics ready to use zone defense again

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Celtics ready to use zone defense again

MIAMI For most of Boston's Game 1 loss to Miami, the Heat got any and every shot they wanted.

So as the fourth quarter rolled around and C's coach Doc Rivers had seemingly exhausted just about every tweak and twist he could to his team's leaky man-to-man coverage, he played his final card: the zone defense.

It didn't provide the kind of game-changing impact the Celtics would have liked, but it did at the very least provide enough of a disruption to the Heat's offensive flow to keep the game relatively close down the stretch.

So much so that Rivers made it clear afterward that the cameo appearance by the Celtics' zone defense was not going to be a one-night only performance.

"You'll see it," Rivers said when asked about its use throughout this series. "We like it. We've been working on zone all year even though we've played it probably five times, six times all year."

Said C's guard Keyon Dooling: "Our half court defense has to be better than it was (in Game 1) for us to have a chance at winning. But our zone defense, it can be very good for us to use in spurts."

Among the first times the Celtics used a zone this season, was back on December 28 when the C's faced the Miami Heat and lost, 115-107.

It was the first time the Celtics played zone for a significant period of time.

After the Dec. 28 loss, Rivers said his team used a zone defense on 23 possessions that night, limiting the Heat to scoring just six times.

"At some point, (the zone defense) was going to get us back in a game because no one things we'll ever play zone," Rivers said at the time. "It was terrific."

Much like Monday's loss, Miami was having its way with the Celtics defense until the zone, once again, threw Miami off stride.

The Heat shot 50 percent (36-for-72) from the field in Game One. But in the fourth quarter, Miami connected on 45 percent (9-for-20) of its shots which was the Heat's worst shooting quarter of the game, and the only one in which the Celtics played a fairly extensive bit of zone coverage.

It forced the Heat to rely more on its perimeter shooting which was for the most part not very good.

Miami connected on just 20 percent (5-for-25) of its 3-pointers, and that tally includes Mike Miller making both of his attempts.

"We believe it (zone defense) will be effective in this series," Rivers said. "But when you're down 16 or 18, you're kind of caught, do you use it or wait for the next game, or do you show it and try to see what they run and then make adjustments to it? And that was the final decision we made. At that point when we ran it, I didn't know if we were going to make a run. I was trying to see really how we could tweak it to make it better."

The Celtics would prefer to rely on its man-to-man defense in order to be successful.

But this time of year, with so much riding on each and every game, the C's understand that you have to do anything and everything to give yourself a chance to win -- even if it means playing more zone defense.

Mapping out the Celtics' next super long win streak

Mapping out the Celtics' next super long win streak

That Celtics win streak was dope. Let’s map out an even longer one that probably won’t happen. 

Nobody’s actually expecting them to keep the pace they’ve established with their recently concluded run. Still, with 63 games remaining, there’s still time for the Celtics to have up to three win streaks of even longer than 16 games. So, because it’s the holidays and the holidays are all about positivity (fun move you’ve probably picked up from movies: You can say “the holidays are all about _____” and just put in whatever you want and it will work), let’s map out the next win streak. 

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A big part of the Celtics’ 16-gamer (and get ready to say “duh”) is that they were better than a lot of the teams they beat. But they also beat one team that was without question better than them and beat a few teams that could certainly beat them on any given night. 

Here’s a rough breakdown of the 16 games: 

- Even if they didn’t go as smoothly as anticipated, nine games were against what could be classified as easy prey based on their rosters and how those teams were playing: The 76ers, the Knicks, the Kings, the Hawks twice, the Lakers, the Hornets, the Nets and the Mavericks. 

- Let’s say that the Heat (whom they played and beat during the streak before Miami snapped the streak Wednesday) and Magic weren’t perceived pushovers, but rather unremarkable opponents. 

- Four games were against what one could call worthy opponents for the Celtics: the Bucks, the Spurs (though they were missing Kawhi Leonard), the Thunder and the Raptors. 

- Nobody was ever pretending the Celtics were actually better than the Warriors. 

So that breaks the 16 games into one game against an unequivocally superior opponent, four against worthy opponents, two against unremarkable teams, and nine joke books. 

Of course, there are several variables that can be thrown into that, such as the fact that the C’s beat one of the aforementioned good teams (Toronto) without Kyrie Irving and nearly lost to two of those trash teams (Charlotte and Dallas). You can’t predict injuries just like you shouldn’t predict win streaks, but let’s take all the information we have and try to find the next one:

STARTING FRIDAY

Friday vs. Magic (trash; probable win)

Saturday at Pacers (unremarkable; potential loss)

A back-to-back after a holiday with the second game on the road against a team that’s been way better than expected? I don’t like the sound of it. 

Nov. 27 vs. Pistons (worthy opponent; potential loss)

Are they overrated? Maybe, but Pistons currently hold the second spot in the Eastern Conference. Whether it’s the Pacers or the Pistons, I think this short stretch prevents a speed bump. The streak might have to wait. 

STARTING NOV. 30

Nov. 30 against Sixers (upgraded to unremarkable based on recent play; still win)

Remember: The last streak started against the Sixers. Hopefully, Kyrie pays that fans’ way to Boston for a halftime reunion. 

Dec. 2 vs. Suns (trash; win)

Dec. 4 vs. Bucks (worthy opponent; win)

Celtics aren’t losing to those sons of guns twice at home. 

Dec. 6 vs. Dallas (trash; win)

Can you get revenge on a team for almost beating you? Yes. The Celtics will. 

Dec. 8 at Spurs (worthy opponent; win)

Until I see Kawhi on the court, this one is a win. 

Dec. 10 at Detroit (worthy opponent; win)

The Pistons play the Spurs, Bucks and Warriors the three previous games. They’ll be all tuckered out. 

Dec. 11 through Dec. 23 (mix of unremarkable and trash opponents; seven wins)

Dec. 25 vs. Wizards (worthy opponent; win)

Terry Rozier becomes a household name with a Christmas performance for the ages. 

Dec. 27 at Charlotte (trash; win) 

Dec. 28 vs. Houston (worthy opponent; win) 

Dec. 31 vs. Brooklyn (trash; loss)

The Celtics are 0-1 the days prior to holidays this season. The streak ends at 18. 

THE REST OF THE SEASON

We'll assess it then, but for now, let's say undefeated (including playoffs).
 

Celtics-Magic preview: Time for Streak 2.0?

Celtics-Magic preview: Time for Streak 2.0?

BOSTON – The last time the Celtics were coming off a loss, they bounced back and won their next 16 games.
 
Could tonight trigger winning streak 2.0?

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If so, Boston’s defense will once again lead the way because the Orlando Magic (8-6) have been one of the better offensive teams in the NBA this season.
 
They come into tonight’s game shooting 46.7 percent from the field, which ranks seventh in the NBA. They also average 11.6 made three-pointers per game, which ranks fourth in the league.
 
One of the keys to Orlando’s offense is to play with a pace (103.16) that ranks among the league’s best.

Still, the Celtics have seen their share of elite offenses this season and more often than not, they have been up to the challenge.
 
For Boston, their defensive success begins with a starting unit that has been among the best in the league most of this season.
 
Boston has utilized a number of different starting lineups, but the one that has logged the most minutes (79) together – Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and Aron Baynes – has a defensive rating of 85.8, which is tops in the league among all five-man lineups which have logged as many or more minutes than Boston’s five-man group.
 
But as well as the Celtics played defensively as the wins piled up, there were clear and undeniable signs that a game such as Wednesday night's 104-98 loss at Miami was on the horizon.
 
Of the 16 wins, the Celtics were down by double digits in each of the past three victories and five overall in the streak.
 
But getting behind consistently and finding a way to rally spoke volumes about this team’s ability to handle adversity.
 
“Obviously winning is good,” said rookie Jayson Tatum. “Just the fashion that we did it in and the adversity that we had to overcome. It brought us closer together and made us a tougher team.”
 
But it seemed self-inflicted adversity by way of slow starts, which was starting to become part of the narrative to this Celtics team.
 
The past three wins - games in which the Celtics trailed by 13 at Dallas, 16 at Atlanta and 17 at home against Golden State - collectively they were a clear indicator that Boston still had room to improve despite finding ways to win.
 
 “We have to get better, we have to get better at what we’re trying to do,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “It’s a little bit, looking at the 16 straight [wins], as I said, it was a little bit of a mirage. We know we have to get better.”
 

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