NEW YORK The Boston Celtics have been in a bit of a zone lately with their suffocating defense and big plays being delivered from a slew of players.
But on Monday, the C's were literally in a zone - as in a zone defense to start the night.
"I felt dirty about it," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said afterward.
But the end result, a 102-96 victory over the New York Knicks, made it a worthwhile gamble.
Rivers is old school when it comes to defense.
You have a man. Guard him.
And if you need help, that's what help-side defenders are for.
But in deciding to go with a zone defense early in the game, the C's threw an unexpected wrinkle into the game that threw the Knicks off balance at first.
New York's first basket of the night did not come until the 9:48 mark of the first quarter.
"It (zone defense) got them to stand around more than run all that pick-and-roll-stuff to get you in trouble," Rivers said.
And the decision to play zone, Rivers added, was made after assistant coach Kevin Eastman encouraged him to try it. Repeatedly.
"He hammered it with me all day, so I went with it," Rivers said. "He was right."
That would be one of the many right decisions made by Rivers and his staff as the C's (17-17) extend their winning streak to a season-high tying three in a row.
Here are some keys outlined prior to the game and how they actually played out for the Celtics who now embark on a five-game homestand beginning Wednesday against Phoenix.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Boston's 3-point defense has to be on top of its game against a Knicks team that lives by the long ball. New York is averaging league highs in 3-pointers made (11.3) and taken (29.2) this season.
WHAT WE SAW: The Knicks were bombing away from the jump, which was a big part of why the Celtics found themselves playing catch-up early in the game. The Knicks connected on 10 3s in the first half on 17 attempts. But Boston's defense clamped down in the second half by limiting New York to 4 3s on 15 attempts. "We took them off the 3-point line (in the second half) and made them make 2s for the most part," Rivers said.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Paul Pierce vs. Carmelo Anthony: Two explosive scorers, Pierce's leadership of late has been critical to the Celtics starting to look like the defensive-minded C's of old. And Anthony has been instrumental in New York's ascension this season which has him very much in the thick of league MVP conversations.
WHAT WE SAW: The two all-star small forwards came up with a slew of big plays for their respective teams, although Pierce came up with one or two more dagger shots that positioned the Celtics for the victory. Pierce finished with 23 points on 10-for-18 shooting while Melo had 20 points on 6-for-26 shooting.
PLAYER TO WATCH: J.R. Smith has been among the top backups this season, and should be on everyone's short list for the league's Sixth Man of the Year award. He's averaging a career-high 16.7 points per game and has had 20 or more points in five of New York's last six games.
WHAT WE SAW: Smith came off the bench as he's done all year, and finished with a game-high 24 points. And his points came in a variety of ways, not to mention he still managed to dish out four assists with just one turnover.
STAT TO TRACK: Boston's pressure defense needs to do what few teams have done against New York this season - force them into turning the ball over. The Knicks are averaging a league-low 11 turnovers per game. Meanwhile the C's are forcing 15.8 turnovers per game which ranks fifth in the league. In Boston's last two games, C's opponents averaged 20 turnovers per game.
WHAT WE SAW: Boston's defense forced the Knicks into 14 turnovers that led to 15 points for the Celtics. More important, Boston's defense disrupted the Knicks offense and forced them to do a number of things in the second half in terms of ball movement that they didn't want to do. "They made us start the ball pretty much at half court," Smith said. "It is hard to start plays when you have to start where you don't want to start it. It was tough."