Celtics zone a work in progress

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Celtics zone a work in progress

CHICAGO For years, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers has shunned the notion of playing zone defense.

This season, Rivers and his staff have embraced it whole-heartedly - sort of.

While the results of its use have been mixed, one thing we know for sure - it is very much a part of the C's defensive strategy this season.

Rivers totally gets that his team must improve in this particular facet of play, but finding a solution can only come about once the problems are identified.

And there are problems - lots of them.

RELUCTANT BUYERS

For a team that prides itself on playing great man-to-man defense, asking - no, expecting - them to play zone is not something that's embraced quickly.

That initial reluctance has certainly played a role in Boston's struggles at times in a zone defense.

"Our guys are starting to buy into it," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who added that there are still a couple who "don't get it yet."

And as Rivers reminded reporters this week, most NBA teams that play a zone, don't play it anywhere close to what you see in high school.

"You can't think it's the high school zone where you just stand still and point," Rivers said. "Because guys will torch you."

TALK IT UP!

Another often overlooked aspect of playing good zone defense, is communication. It's always important to talk, especially on defense. But when playing in a zone, it becomes a necessity. Opponents facing zone defenses are constantly in search of holes that they know exist, when teams play a zone defense.

Without a strong level of communication, those gaps and seams that teams are looking to exploit, have far too often taken on the form of wide open jumpers for opponents.

Chicago's Luol Deng had 23 points in Boston's loss on Thursday, a tally that included him making 6-of-9 3-pointers - some of which came against Boston's zone defense.

Boston's Doc Rivers credits the team's use of the zone for allowing them to get back into the Bulls game, a game in which they trailed by 16 before making it a toss-up in the fourth.

"The one thing with our league," Rivers said. "If you stay in zone too long, eventually they're going to find some holes and I thought they (Bulls) did that. But our communication broke down some on that as well."

Zone 'D' in, bad man-to-man out

It seems the only time the Celtics go with a zone defense, is when their man-to-man defense bails on them.

In the Bulls loss, Boston fell behind by double digits and just like that, the zone defense was back.

"Our zone defense got us back in the game," said Rivers who believes it has been effective at times for the C's. "We were down, so we were looking for something to change the tempo of the game."

And the C's continue to search for ways to change the misfortune of what has been a difficult season.

"It's been a frustrating year," Rivers said. "We just gotta keep fighting through this maze. It's gonna turn OK. I really do believe that. We just have to hang in there. I think it'll turn our way.

Rivers added, "I like our team. I like the way we're starting to play. We're just not winning games."

Celtics' team plane receives bomb threat

Celtics' team plane receives bomb threat

BOSTON -- There was a bomb threat to the Boston Celtics’ team plane to Oklahoma City on Saturday afternoon, but no one was injured.

The incident will be investigated by NBA security which will work in conjunction with the FBI on this matter which was one of several hoaxes called into airports across the country on Saturday.

News of the bomb threat was first known when Celtics forward Jae Crowder posted an Instagram photo showing players departing the plane with the caption, “BOMB THREAT ON US”.

Celtics officials declined to comment on the matter and instead referred all bomb threat-related questions to the league office.

Messages to the league office were not immediately returned.

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

BOSTON – When it comes to winning basketball, keep it moving – the ball that is – has become a staple of the Celtics this season. 
 
And lately they’ve had to do it without Isaiah Thomas, the team’s leading scorer at 26 points per game as well as their top assists guy (6.2) who will miss hish third game in a row Sunday in Oklahoma City because of a right groin injury.
 
The Celtics have split their first two games without Thomas, with the most recent being a 101-94 home loss to Toronto on Friday.
 
When it comes to this team and ball movement, fans are just as divided when it pertains to whether the Celtics move the ball better without the high-scoring Thomas in the lineup. 
 
Regardless of what fans think they know about this team and how they move the ball, the numbers paint a very clear picture that this team’s ball movement is among the best in the NBA, with or without Thomas in the lineup. 

And that will be important on Sunday against an Oklahoma City team that doesn’t rely on the ball swinging from one side of the floor to the other, nearly as much as the Celtics. 
 
The Thunder, led by MVP candidate Russell Westbrook, are dead-last in the NBA when it comes to passes made per game (267.1). 
 
Meanwhile, the Celtics are at the opposite end of the passing game spectrum, averaging 331.7 passes per game, which is second in the NBA (Philadelphia, 354.3).
 
And in the two games without Thomas, Boston has averaged 347.0 passes per game, which ranks second in the NBA in that period of time. 
 
In addition to missing his points and assists, the Celtics must also find ways to make plays in filling the void left by a player who has the ball in his hands a lot of the time. 
 
Thomas’ usage percentage (percentage of plays used by a player while he’s on the floor) of 32.9 percent ranks seventh in the NBA, ahead of notable stars such as San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (30.9 percent), Portland’s Damian Lillard (30.8 percent), New York’s Carmelo Anthony (29.5 percent), as well as Cleveland’s LeBron James (29 percent) and Golden State’s back-to-back NBA MVP Stephen Curry (28.2 percent).
 
So, considering how involved Thomas has been in the team’s offense, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the numbers in terms of passing and ball movement are better without him than they are when he’s on the floor playing. 
 
What should be surprising is that the gap statistically without him, isn’t greater. 
 
Boston has been a top five team when it comes to assists this season, currently third in the league with 24.7 assists per game. In the past two games without Thomas, the Celtics’ assists numbers have risen to 26.5 per game, but that only ranks fifth in the league in that span.
 
When it comes to potential assists and secondary assists (a.k.a. the “hockey” assist), Boston’s numbers have improved slightly without Thomas as well, but in each category Boston is ranked second in the league. 
 
And that ranking is with, and without Thomas in the lineup. 
 
While it’s not clear if Thomas knows just how close the numbers in terms of ball movement are with and without him playing, he is acutely aware that there are some who believe they are a better team in terms of keeping the ball moving without him.
 
“I can’t control that,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “At this point, I laugh about it. I know what I mean to my teammates. I know what I mean to this organization, to Brad Stevens.”