Celtics zone a work in progress

Celtics zone a work in progress
February 17, 2012, 11:20 pm
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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.


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."


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."