Celtics' zone defense a product of bad man-to-man

Celtics' zone defense a product of bad man-to-man
December 30, 2011, 1:41 am
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BOSTON The number one team in college basketball right now is the Syracuse Orange, a team that has employed some variation of a zone defense for years.

But the NBA is a different brand of basketball, one in which teams don't rely on the zone as their bread-and-butter defensive strategy.

The NBA season is just three games old for the Celtics (0-3), and the C's have played arguably more zone defense now than they have at any point under head coach Doc Rivers.

The reason?

Because their man-to-man defense has been horrible, something they hope to change on Friday in their home opener against Detroit.

"The only way we're playing it (zone defense), is if we look awful defensively," Rivers said.

The C's have used zone defense in each of the last two games, with mixed results.

Against the Heat, it helped trim Miami's 20-point lead down to just three points. But in the loss to New Orleans on Wednesday, many of the problems that led to the Celtics falling behind - dribble penetration, for example - were just as problematic in a zone defense as it was in the team's poor man-to-man coverage.

Rivers believes one of the big reasons for the poor zone defense against the Hornets, was fatigue.

"Back-to-back nights of that," Rivers said. "For long periods of time, just doesn't work."

As Celtics guard Keyon Dooling pointed out, zone defenses aren't entirely bad for the NBA as he pointed out that the current NBA champion Dallas Mavericks used zone defense at times during their journey towards the franchise's first NBA title.

"It's all about strategy," Dooling said. "Sometimes you have to junk the game up."

He added, "it's very relevant in our game now. And we want to get better at our zone as well."

But it's never going to become a staple of the C's defensive strategy.

Their focus now is to become a better man-to-man defense, viewing zone coverage as an unexpected wrinkle they can throw at teams occasionally to throw them off balance.

One of the challenges for the C's has been blending in the new faces with the veterans, and figuring out how to get everyone on board to understand what their role is defensively.

Players mean well, but developing that kind of continuity, that kind of trust, takes time.

"You don't get it overnight," said Celtics guard Ray Allen. "As a team, as an individual, we know who we are as individuals but still trying to claim our identity as a team. We hang our hats on playing defense and trusting each other, just having each others' backs. I think we're being tested, and early. Everything is not hunky-dory so far for us. Our backs are up against the wall, so we have to come out swinging."