Celtics find success turning to zone early on vs. Sixers

Celtics find success turning to zone early on vs. Sixers
March 6, 2013, 12:00 am
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PHILADELPHIA — In preparing to face the Boston Celtics, teams are getting used to the idea of seeing a little bit of zone defense.

But on Tuesday, the C's literally zoned in on using a zone for much longer stretches than usual.

"Two games in a row we had good zone defense," said C's guard Avery Bradley. "We just have to keep building, continue to keep talking."

And the timing could not have been any better, because the C's man-to-man struggled on Tuesday while the zone defense seemed to leave the Sixers stupefied for enough long stretches for Boston to escape with a 109-101 win.

Philadelphia jumped out to a 17-11 lead which is what prompted C's coach Doc Rivers to dig into his grab bag of defensive tricks earlier than usual and play some zone.

Most games he goes to it for a possession or two here and there. But that approach was out the window quickly.

"We had no game plan to go zone that much," Rivers said. "But what we do is, if the zone works and we score, then we stay in zone; if we miss we go back to man. But we made a lot of shots, so it allowed us to stay in zone a lot."

Sixers coach Doug Collins points to the Celtics' use of the zone defense in the second quarter as being one of the game's turning points.

"They went to a smaller lineup," Collins said. "They went to a zone, and they really tried to run out of their zone, and I thought that they hurt us with that early."

Boston's use of a zone defense was one of the keys to the C's having an 8-2 advantage in fast-break points in the first half.

Utilizing a zone defense against the Sixers made a lot of sense considering their middle-of-the-NBA pack status in terms of 3-point shooting.

They came into Tuesday's game ranked 18th in the NBA while shooting 35.5 percent on three-pointers.

Boston has actually shot the ball worse this season from 3-point range (34.1 percent), but nailed 57.9 percent of their 3s (11-for-19) on Tuesday.

"They hit threes, made some tough shots ... that definitely killed us," said Sixers forward Evan Turner.

To see Boston play so much zone was unusual.

Having Kevin Garnett embrace it seemingly without hesitation is just as unexpected. In the past, Garnett has made no secret about not being in favor of playing zone defense. But he recognizes that there are nights when it does indeed have value for the Celtics.

Tuesday was one of those nights.

"A zone is just something different we gave them tonight," Garnett said. "Tonight it just so happened to be effective. We stayed in it, we were alert, we talked and it made it easier. Philly's not known for the deep ball. They do shoot threes, they do have shooters, but I thought the zone was effective for 48 minutes."