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

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

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."

Horford believes Celtics give him best chance at 'ultimate goal' of NBA Championship

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Horford believes Celtics give him best chance at 'ultimate goal' of NBA Championship

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Pinpointing the exact moment Al Horford made up his mind to become a Boston Celtics isn’t clear, but the seeds of that decision can be traced back to last year’s playoffs – and no we’re not talking about the playoff series between Boston and Atlanta, either.
 
It was the Hawk’s second-round playoff series back in May against Cleveland, a team that swept them out of the Conference finals in 2015 and did so again last about five months ago.
 
Horford had every intention of returning to Atlanta, but as the free agency period wore on two things became quite clear: Winning an NBA title would have to go through Cleveland and it happening with him in Atlanta was becoming more and more unlikely.
 
In came the Celtics with a pitch that was heavy on present-day and down-the-road potential that wouldn’t require him to do anything other than continue to play the way he has for the past nine seasons.
 
“It (becoming a Celtic) became real for me real late and real quick,” Horford told CSNNE.com on Wednesday.
 
After mulling it over for a couple days, Horford said he was ready to become a Celtic.
 
“This could be a great opportunity even though I’m leaving a lot behind,” Horford said.
 
As you listen to Horford speak, it’s clear that the Celtics mystique played a role in his decision to sign with Boston.

 But as much as the Celtics’ lore and its on-the-rise status helped, there were certain events that Boston had no control over that actually helped their cause.
 
First the Hawks got in on a three-team trade in June with Utah and Indiana which sent Hawks All-Star point guard Jeff Teague to the Pacers while Atlanta received Utah’s first-round pick which was 12th overall and was used by Atlanta to select Baylor’s Taurean Prince. The move allowed Atlanta’s Dennis Schroeder to slide over into the now-vacant starting point guard position.
 
While it may help Atlanta down the road, it did little to move them closer towards knocking off Cleveland anytime soon.
 
And then there was the Hawks coming to terms on a three-year, $70.5 million deal with Dwight Howard early in the free agency period. That deal coupled with Atlanta’s desire to bring Kent Bazemore back, cast serious doubt as to whether Horford would return.
 
Horford, who inked a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston, told CSNNE.com that at the time of Atlanta’s deal with Howard, he was still open to the idea of returning.
 
But if Horford did, he knew figuring out the best way to play him, Howard and Paul Millsap who by the way has a player option that he’s likely to exercise which would make him a free agent next summer, was not going to be easy.

“It was definitely going to be different,” Horford said, then adding, “For me, the Celtics were becoming more and more a realistic option. After talking with my family, we felt this was the best for me.”
 
And while it’s still very early in his tenure as a Celtic, Horford has no regrets or second thoughts about his decision.
 
“As a player you always want to be in the best position you can,” Horford said. “I felt for me being on this team would put me in a position to be able to contend and win an NBA championship. That’s my ultimate goal.”
 
And that alone makes him a good fit with this franchise which from ownership to the front office to the coaching staff and of course the players, are all focused on one thing and that’s bringing home Banner 18.
 
 “Look at the resume. He’s been a winner wherever he’s played,” said Boston’s Amir Johnson. “It’s good to have a guy like that, with his talent and with his winning, playing next to you.”