WALTHAM, Mass. — It wasn't as though Friday's loss to Milwaukee was the first time the Boston Celtics saw a zone defense this season.
But in the second half of the Celtics' 105-98 loss, there was no mistaking that Milwaukee's use of the zone - at least for some Celtics players - was just enough of a curveball to throw the team collectively off course.
"It caught us off guard more than anything," said Boston's Jared Sullinger. "We kind of just caught the ball and held it, trying to figure out what they were in. After the first pass, it seemed like they were in man-to-man. And as soon as you got to the top of the key, it goes back into a zone so it kind of threw us off. We'll know next time."
Chalk this one up to yet another painful lesson learned in what's shaping up to be one of the more trying seasons the Celtics have seen in quite some time.
And Boston's handling of Milwaukee's zone defense was consistently inconsistent which so far at least, has been the identity of this Celtics team.
"We haven't spent a whole lot of time against it (zone defense), but we've played a lot better against it than we did (on Friday)," said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. "We attacked it really well in the first half. We didn't score every time, but we scored most times and our offensive efficiency was excellent. Then we just got stagnant in the second half. They extended it and pressured us a little more. I thought it was more the pressure than the zone."
Regardless, the zone defense achieved its goal which was to confuse the Celtics and lull them into playing away from their strengths.
"We just got stagnant," said Boston's Jeff Green. "The ball stuck. Guys tried to go one-on-one. Plain and simple when you look at the film."
Green added, "You always see a mismatch when you are in zone because guys are not guarding who they are supposed to be so you always think you have the mismatch. When they're in a zone, we have to work more as a team."
Boston's Gerald Wallace doesn't believe the Bucks' use of a zone defense had any significant bearing on the Celtics' struggles offensively.
Even though Boston shot 44.7 percent for the game, the Celtics were a woeful 7-for-33 shooting (21.2 percent) in the second half.
"I don't think they did anything to take us out of our game," Wallace said. "We took ourselves out of our game. We got stagnant; we held the ball. We were playing individually instead of as a team. Not to take any credit away from them. They did a great job of executing their game plan in the second half but we took ourselves out of that game."
Said Sullinger: "It's definitely a learning lesson. We got a lot of guys who don't have the experience that we had last year. We're just learning on the fly. We'll get better."