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."

Blakely: Celtics make a healthy choice in standing pat at the deadline

Blakely: Celtics make a healthy choice in standing pat at the deadline

BOSTON -- For the second year in a row, the NBA trade deadline has come and gone with the Boston Celtics making no moves.
 
The Celtics were focused on trying to land either Chicago’s Jimmy Butler or Indiana’s Paul George, but Boston’s efforts never gained momentum in the final hours leading up to Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.

And while there were a handful of potential deals that would have made Boston slightly better, that improvement -- and the cost attached to it -- was just more than Ainge and the Celtics were willing to pay. 
 
And so they hit the final stretch of the season with a roster that – for now at least – looks identical to what they had at the start of the season with one difference --health. 
 
Most of this season, the Celtics have had multiple players out with injuries or various ailments. Currently, Avery Bradley (right Achilles) is the lone Celtic dealing with a significant injury. 
 
And after Bradley practiced some on Thursday, there’s a chance that he might be on the floor Friday night at Toronto. 
 
But there is no question that a significant segment of Celtics Nation is disappointed that Boston didn’t engineer a trade of some sort.
 
“We’re trying to upgrade our team,” said Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations. “But it is a delicate balance between short-term goals and long-term goals. Obviously, both are very important. We’re excited where we are on a long-term basis. And this year we didn’t make any trades. Last year we didn’t make any trades.”
 
But in standing pat a year ago, the Celtics solidified their salary cap space to where they could have offered a pair of max contracts to Al Horford – which they did – as well as Kevin Durant who met with Boston but ultimately decided to sign with Golden State. 
 
And by not including their first-round pick last season, the Celtics have Jaylen Brown who is one of the better rookies in this year’s class. 
 
“So we’re happy with the direction that we’re moving,” Ainge said. 
 
But standing pat was not on the agenda for the teams surrounding Boston in the East.
 
Boston’s inability to strike a deal is in sharp contrast to what teams surrounding them did during this trade season. 
 
The Cleveland Cavaliers are the team Boston and the rest of the East are chasing. They acquired Kyle Korver earlier this month, a player who ranks among the NBA’s all-time great 3-point shooters. 
 
Washington added Bojan Bogdanovic from Brooklyn today, providing some much-needed firepower for a Wizards second unit that ranks among the NBA’s lowest scoring groups. 
 
Toronto recently traded for Orlando’s Serge Ibaka, giving the Raptors a defensive-oriented big man who can stretch the floor. 
 
Also today, the Atlanta Hawks picked up Ersan Illyasova from Philadelphia, which should help them space the floor better.
 
Each of those teams addressed a very specific need, something the Celtics were hoping to do. 
 
But more than a player, the Celtics could benefit from a roster with improved health. 
 
The team’s preferred starting five -- Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Al Horford and Amir Johnson -- has a 15-6 record this season. To put that in perspective, that’s a winning percentage of .714 which would be tops in the East and third overall in the NBA for this season. 
 
And with most of the players seemingly back to full strength health-wise now, it’s understandable to some extent why Ainge would be willing to stick with this group for the rest of the season. 
 
“As you’ve been watching lately, we’ve been winning a lot of games with everybody,” Ainge said. “Players ten through fifteen contributing to our wins. We like the depth of the team, we like the youth of the team, we like the energy and enthusiasm of the team and I’m very anxious and excited to watch in the second half.”
 
But just like when they stood pat last year, the decision puts the onus on the players and the coaching staff to step their game up. 

“I roll with the guys in this locker room until something changes,” Isaiah Thomas said prior to the trade deadline. “I always mean that.”
 
Said Jae Crowder: “We have to take care of what we can control and that’s night-in and night-out, try to get wins.”

Blakely: Celtics make a healthy choice in standing pat at the deadline

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Blakely: Celtics make a healthy choice in standing pat at the deadline

BOSTON -- For the second year in a row, the NBA trade deadline has come and gone with the Boston Celtics making no moves.
 
The Celtics were focused on trying to land either Chicago’s Jimmy Butler or Indiana’s Paul George, but Boston’s efforts never gained momentum in the final hours leading up to Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.

Boston’s inability to strike a deal is in sharp contrast to what teams surrounding them did during this trade season. 
 
The Cleveland Cavaliers are the team Boston and the rest of the East are chasing. They acquired Kyle Korver earlier this month, a player who ranks among the NBA’s all-time great 3-point shooters. 
 
Washington added Bojan Bogdanovic from Brooklyn today, providing some much-needed firepower for a Wizards second unit that ranks among the NBA’s lowest scoring groups. 
 
Toronto recently traded for Orlando’s Serge Ibaka, giving the Raptors a defensive-oriented big man who can stretch the floor. 
 
Also today, the Atlanta Hawks picked up Ersan Illyasova from Philadelphia, which should help them space the floor better.
 
Each of those teams addressed a very specific need, something the Celtics were hoping to do. 
 
But Boston had some very clear parameters from which they refused to budge. 
 
The Celtics were not interested in giving up significant assets for a 25-game rental player who would most likely be a reserve playing limited minutes. 
 
In addition, the Celtics were hesitant to break up a core group that’s playing well despite key members of that core being limited or unavailable for long stretches altogether. 
 
Regardless of the rationale behind standing pat, the Celtics will be criticized in some circles for not making a deal that would have better positioned them to make a run at Cleveland or better solidify their standing as the No. 2 team in the East. 
 
But just like when they stood pat last year, the decision puts the onus on the players and the coaching staff to step up their games. 
 
Danny Ainge’s decision to keep this group intact speaks to some degree about the confidence he has in them to continue to get better. 
 
But they still may bolster their roster depending on whether recently-traded Andrew Bogut reaches a buyout agreement and thus becomes a free agent who can then sign with any team of his choosing.
 
Bogut was traded to Philadelphia from Dallas, along with Justin Anderson to Philadelphia for Everett native Nerlens Noel.