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.
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.
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.
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.
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.