Effectiveness of zone defense vital to growing Celtics streak

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Effectiveness of zone defense vital to growing Celtics streak

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics have dabbled at times this season with a zone defense. But we haven’t seen quite as much of it as we did on Saturday.

And for all the things that Boston did to come away with a 110-99 win against Toronto, the Celtics’ use of an effective zone defense was a critical component to Boston extending its winning streak to six straight games.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens recognized its value and importance to the win, but he was reluctant to dole out too much praise for its impact on the game.


“Well, when we play those big lineups, with (Jayson) Tatum at the top of that, it’s pretty – it’s a pretty good guard at the top of a 2-3 zone when he puts his arms out,” Stevens said. “We ran it a couple times in the first half with mixed results. But it – a lot of our issues were late in the clock, so it was something we could go back to if we needed to.

Stevens added, “sometimes they just miss shots. I’ll have to go back and look and see what it looked like, but it felt like we were active in the middle of it. Did get some deflections on drives and cause some turnovers out of it.”

Boston doesn’t play a lot of zone, but the Raptors were quick to say it wasn’t something that caught them off-guard.

“We were ready for it,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. “We executed against it, we had some open looks against it, Kyle (Lowry) made one so we were ready for it, wasn’t anything we were surprised by. We got what we wanted out of it, we just got to make the shots.”

DeMar DeRozan, who had a game-high 32 points, echoed similar sentiments about Boston’s zone defense.

“We expected it, but I think it slowed down our momentum offensively, kind of (got) a little bit stagnant,” DeRozan told reporters. “We still got to play the same way, aggressively, and we didn’t do that. Now I’m pretty sure we will be well prepared next time we are in that same situation.”

Here are five takeaways in Boston’s 110-99 win over the Toronto Raptors.

Morris’ toughness

Even before the late-game bruhaha involving Morris and Toronto’s C.J. Miles, the veteran forward had already put his imprint on the game. He wound up leading the Celtics in scoring with 25 points, reaching the 20-point plateau for the fourth straight game which is the first time he’s done that in his NBA career.

Rozier’s future

The more you see Terry Rozier with Boston’s starting unit, the clearer it becomes he’s talented to play with the first unit of a lot of teams in the NBA. Rozier came through once again for Boston when it mattered on Saturday to finish with 21 points and seven assists.  His ability to balance being a scoring guard with that of a facilitator, serves both him and the Celtics well as they forge ahead to what’s shaping up to be a down-to-the-wire battle for the top spot in the East.

DeMar DeRozan

He’s a four-time all-star whose doing what all the greats do – find ways to get better. It has been well chronicled how DeRozan has expanded his offensive game with the 3-point shot. But what he doesn’t get enough credit for, is how he has improved as a defender. He had a number of nice plays defensively that certainly aided Toronto’s efforts on Saturday.

Serge Ibaka’s value

Often the forgotten man, Serge Ibaka’s absence during a critical stretch in the fourth quarter serves as a reminder of what he means to this Raptors team. When he picked up his fifth personal foul with 5:58 to play, the Celtics had a slim 94-92 lead. By the time he returned with 4:18 to play, the Celtics were up 100-94 which included a three-point play by Al Horford – the man Ibaka would have been defending had he been in the game. Boston’s control of the game was not an issue afterwards.

Aron Baynes

Anytime you can get a 3-pointer from Aron Baynes, you’re doing well. Get two 3-pointers from him, which is what we saw on Saturday? You’re playing with house money now! The 3’s certainly drew lots of attention, but more significant was how Baynes’ perimeter shooting began to open the floor for Boston. He doesn’t have to become a 3-point threat, but being able to knock down mid-range, pick-and-pop jumpers goes a long way towards keeping teams honest defensively. His face-up game shooting the ball will be something to keep an eye on not only when these two play in Toronto on Wednesday, but also going forward with the playoffs around the corner.


Tacko's dunk contest assist comes up short for runner-up (again) Aaron Gordon

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Tacko's dunk contest assist comes up short for runner-up (again) Aaron Gordon

CHICAGO — Aaron Gordon was down to his final dunk, in need of a 49 or better to win his first slam dunk contest. 

He wanted to do something special, like dunk on a big man. 

Former Celtic Shaquille O'Neal was nearby, but he declined. 

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Gordon took a quick glimpse into the crowd and saw Boston's Tacko Fall nearby. 

Fall —all 7-foot-5 (without shoes) of him—stood in the paint for what was a crowd-razing dunk that many felt would secure Gordon his first slam dunk title. 

Then came back the scores. To the surprise of many, Gordon fell one point short, 48-47, to Miami's Derrick Jones Jr. 

After Gordon's dunk over Tacko, it was clear Jones had doubts about whether he was going to win. 

"He's a very tall human being," Jones said.of Tacko. "If I thought of it earlier, I would have did it."

Gordon added: "What are we doing? Who set the dunk contest up? Who set this up?" 

Then he explained both his disappointment in not winning, and his rationale for involving Tacko. 

"I wanted to jump over Shaq. He didn't want to do it," Gordon explained. "So, it was really for the people. Everybody was like, 'Tacko, Tacko!' He's the tallest dude in the gym. Dunking over somebody whose 7-5 and dunking it, it's no easy feat. What I get like a 47? Come on, man. What we doing?"

Fall is in Chicago this weekend participating in the NBA's Basketball Without Borders as a counselor, along with making some promotional appearances. He's also appeared at some of the All-Star events and more often than not, has received a louder ovation from fans than some of the players who will be playing in Sunday's All-Star Game. 

Aaron Gordon dunks over Tacko Fall in 2020 NBA Slam Dunk Contest

Aaron Gordon dunks over Tacko Fall in 2020 NBA Slam Dunk Contest

After Jayson Tatum was eliminated in the first round of the 2020 NBA All-Star Skills Contest, it was assumed that the Boston Celtics' involvement in NBA All-Star Saturday night was finished.

Oh, how wrong we were.

The Celtics did get involved in one of the most epic and controversial Slam Dunk Contests in the history of the NBA. Or rather, one Celtic got involved: Tacko Fall.

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In double overtime of the contest, Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic came out to perform the final dunk of the evening. He beckoned for the 7-foot-5 rookie to come out onto the floor with one purpose. He wanted to dunk over Tacko. Fall was reluctant at first but ultimately agreed to do it.

And Gordon was able to clear Tacko and complete the dunk on his first try. Here's a look at the unbelievable moment, courtesy of the NBA's official Twitter account.

What an amazing dunk. There are very few players who could pull this off, but Gordon is obviously one of them.

Despite the epic dunk from Gordon, he was only awarded a 47 on the dunk and as a result, lost by a single point to Derrick Jones Jr. of the Miami Heat. It was the only dunk of Gordon's evening on which he didn't receive a max score of 50.

This dunk will surely be talked about in the coming days and Gordon's defeat will be scrutinized in another close and contentious NBA Dunk Contest.